There is no denying that modern technology has made a big impact on how our children live and play, compared to how we grew up. Between the TV, computers, tablets, phones and handheld games, it’s coming at us from every angle. It’s certainly not all bad, there are some wonderful opportunities for learning with the apps and games available to children nowadays. But it’s a matter of finding a healthy balance between screen time and play time, or family time. So here are some tips to guide you:
How much is too much?
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly how much screen time is appropriate, it really depends on your child’s age and development. But as a guideline, one recommendation from Canadian Pediatric Society is that toddlers up to 2 years old, have no screen time at all. 2-5 year olds should not have more than an hour per day. Between 6-12 years old, two hours per day is appropriate. The 13-18 year olds are recommended to stay within a two-three hour limit per day. These recommendations include all screen time, so TV, games, computers, phones, tablets etc. And of course, the type of screen time should be age appropriate as well.
What are the risks?
To understand why it’s important to limit screen time, it helps to know what some of the risks are. Overuse of electronic devices can lead to delayed development, poor social skills, sleep deprivation, obesity, aggression (especially when exposed to violent video games or movies) and radiation emissions. If your child is at the age where they are spending a lot of time online, on social media or texting, there are other risks, such as predators, or cyber bullying. In those cases you need to have a plan in place for teaching your child about appropriate cyber-behaviour, and that anything they share online, is out there forever.
What do you want to accomplish by limiting screen time (a more physically active child?), and how will you be able to tell if your goals are reached? Figuring these things out before presenting your child with the rules is important, otherwise your rules will be hard to implement.
As with any rules, for the boundaries you set in your house, you want to have some clear goals in mind. Are there certain mobile devices you are NOT comfortable with your child using? Are there certain areas in the house that you would prefer your child to be in while using electronics? It’s harder to go to inappropriate websites when the computer or laptop is in a public area.
Screen time as a reward
Using screen time as a reward is a very popular way of controlling when and how long your child gets to use it. Are there certain chores your child needs to finish first? Does homework need to be finished first? Maybe one of your goals is to increase the amount of time your family spend together, so screen time is not available until you all have supper together, or do a scheduled family activity. If you are trying to increase their physical activity, make sure they have lots of active play time before moving on to the screens. Having some expectations on what your child needs to accomplish before getting to play their game, or go online.
Modern technology can have a really positive impact on your child, and it is a skill that they need to know well to stay up to date with the ever evolving technology. But in order for it to be a positive thing, we need to find a way to balance it out with other, just as important factors like physical activity, social face-to-face interaction and family bonding time. And remember to set a good example for you child, because it's just as easy for us to overuse the electronic devices as for them!