What is Screen Time?
Let’s start with the basics, What is Screen Time? Screen Time includes any time spent using an electronic device with a screen and includes:
1. watching television, DVDs or movies
2. playing electronic games on computers, video game consoles (such as PlayStation or Xbox)
3. using tablets (e.g. iPad) or handheld electronic devices (e.g. Nintendo 3DS or smartphones)
4. using the internet.
Should I worry About How Much Screen Time?
There are lots of benefits of kids using electronic devices and it shouldn’t be about stopping kids using them, but more about getting the balance right and making sure they don’t have a detrimental effect.
There has been a lot of negative press about the amount of screen time kids have and the problems it may cause. However, the latest research is now saying that the notion of ‘screen time’ itself is outmoded. We live in a digital world and we need to use technology every day, it’s a part of our lives that isn’t going to go away.
The latest research by the LSE in their Media Policy Brief says that the emphasis on screen ‘time’ is misleading, parents should instead ask themselves and their children questions about screen context (where, when and how digital media are accessed), content (what is being watched or used), and connections (whether and how relationships are facilitated or impeded).
This doesn’t mean that you should let your kids have unlimited screen time. However, it is just as important to make sure that they are watching / playing age appropriate media and games. Not all screen time is equal, it’s now acknowledged that there are differences. For instance, spending time face Timing Grandma or using the Internet to research a homework project isn’t likely to cause a problem.
Possible Problems Associated with Screen Time
As with anything, there are potential issues associated with screen time, here are some of them:
1. Electronic Screen Syndrome (ESS) – Victoria Dunckley, MD, integrative child psychiatrist and author of the book, Reset Your Child’s Brain, believes technology is having a negative impact on our children’s brain health and development.
Electronic Screen Syndrome (ESS), is the result of over exposure to screens in the forms of video game systems, tablets, and smart phones. Electronics can overstimulate and deregulate a child’s nervous system. The added overstimulation and stress cause children to have issues with mood, focus, sleep, and behaviour. (Dunckley)
If your kids are constantly playing computer games that stimulate them and cause them to go into a stressed mode this causes a release of adrenalin, think fight or flight. They have no outlet for this increase in energy as they’re just sitting down in front of a computer so it’s almost inevitable that they will have an outburst when they come off the device as they need to release all that built-up energy.
2. Sleep issues – screen time disrupts sleep and influences your body clock as light from screen devices mimics daytime, it suppresses melatonin, a sleep signal released by darkness. Just minutes of screen stimulation can delay melatonin release by several hours and desynchronize the body clock.
3. Getting “Hooked” on Gaming – in extreme cases, there are dangers of kids becoming “hooked” on computer gaming, this can be due to the fact that when playing some video games dopamine is released in the brain, the “feel-good” chemical, that is associated with reward. But when reward pathways are overused, they become less sensitive, and more and more stimulation is needed to experience pleasure.
4. Eye Problems – staring at a screen for long stretches without taking breaks can cause symptoms such as Eye fatigue, Blurry vision and Dry eyes.
5. Obesity – obviously if your child is sitting in front of a screen for hours on end and getting no exercise then this is going to influence their weight and watching TV is actually worse than playing computer games as we tend to move less when watching TV.
Are there any benefits of screen time?
Obviously, this is an overwhelming yes, we live in a world of technology. Here are some of the benefits:
1. Educational – good quality TV can be educational as can using technology to help with homework.
2. Motor skills and coordination – playing video games can improve these.
3. Socialising – texting, shared video games and social media are easy and fun ways to socialise and communicate. It’s great to be able to keep in touch with family who don’t live close.
4. Creativity and problem solving – games like Minecraft and other similar games or apps can enhance creativity and help with problem solving.
5. Enabler for communication – a family movie night can be a great way to spend time together and can give you a shared interest with your kids. Also take an interest in the Games they are playing it can be a great way of bonding with them.
So What Should I do?
The negatives still sound very scary but as I said it’s all about getting the balance right. Technology is wonderful and you wouldn’t want to stop your kids using the computer to help with their homework. Also, there’s no need to stop them playing computer games or using social media, it’s all about using it sensibly.
There are no official guidelines in the UK on the amount of screen time that kids should have. In America they used to suggest that over 5’s should be limited to 2 hours per day but that now excludes time spent on the computer for educational purposes. They are now updating this and the American Academy of Pediatrics now suggests that:
Children from 6+ need a media use plan, with limits to ensure screen time doesn’t displace sleeping, playing, conversation and physical activities.
The LSE Parenting 4 Digital Future Media Policy Study says:
So, rather than watching the clock, we advise parents to watch their children and ask themselves, are they:
- Eating and sleeping enough?
- Physically healthy?
- Connecting socially with friends and family – through technology or otherwise?
- Engaged in school?
- Enjoying and pursuing hobbies and interests – through technology or beyond?
If the answer to these questions is more or less ‘yes’, then perhaps the problem of ‘screen time’ is less dramatic than many parents have been led to believe. The notion of ‘addiction’ to the screen requires particular care, and certainly cannot be determined by simple measures of time.
If you find that your kids are irritable, prone to tantrums or outbursts, tearful or generally have a change in behaviour after coming off their device then common sense says you need to change something. Look at what they’re doing and find a way of changing it.
You will need to find what works for you and your kids but it is important to make sure that they take frequent breaks and ensure your kids have a good balance of screen time, outdoor activities, hobbies and face to face time with friends.
Research also suggests that watching things together is better for you than watching them alone so it’s great to have a family film night.
Try and get your kids to turn off their devices an hour before bed as this will help with their sleep but if you can’t do that or don’t want to them you should adjust the settings or download an app that automatically warms up the screen light at a set time each evening.
It’s also useful to have some Screen Time Rules, and maybe a media / screen schedule, these should also apply to the adults. You can hardly tell your kids not to use their devices at the table if you do. Sit down and discuss the rules with your kids, explaining why they’re needed, and agree on which ones you should have. Write them down and put them up somewhere they can be seen.
Top 5 Screen Time Rules for Tweens
Here’s my top 5 screen time rules for Tweens:
1. No TV in the bedroom
2. No texting during mealtimes
3. No TV on during meals
4. Turn off electronic devices at a set time each night, or at least change the light at a set time.
5. No screen time until homework is done – unless they’re using the computer for homework.
As with everything it’s a question of balance.