9 things that work to limit screen time and keep your child (and you!) happy and healthy, by Dr. Nate Chomilo
- Set the example. Kids are very perceptive. “Do as I say, not as I do” does not pass the sniff test with most. Parents must also follow house screen rules. Research shows that the more parents are absorbed in their own devices, the more likely children are to act out for attention.
- Spend quiet time outside. Electronic games and educational TV shows can exercise the brain, but they can also overstimulate it. By spending time with the sights and sounds of nature instead, your child can peacefully engage his or her brain. Make a habit of taking a daily or weekly walk around your neighborhood. Or, visit a lake or state park and hike around it.
- Read. Not all activities have to be done outdoors. Encourage your kids to read more by giving them a list of books to tackle over school breaks. When possible, try to have your child read out of a printed book or comic. There is evidence that comprehension and retention is better when paper books are used rather than when electronic readers (e.g. Kindles, iPads).
- Play sports…and just play! Organized sports are a great way to get children involved in team building. Plus, they get kids moving. Likewise, playing outside with friends gives children more chances to make new friends or build stronger bonds with old ones. This unstructured time with other kids also helps build social skills.
- Plan and go on road trips. Whether you’re planning a weekend road trip or one that lasts all week long, there are a lot of activities you and your kids can do to prep for your journey that don’t involve screens. Once you get on the road, choose a book on tape to listen to. Or kick off a round of “I Spy” or the “Alphabet Game” – remember how fun that was for you growing up? These games aren’t fancy, but they are still a great way to build and strengthen your family bond.
- Have assigned chores. Getting kids to chip in with housework is great for both child and parents. Write down a list of chores and allow kids to cross them off once they are completed. There can also be incentive involved. For example, making the bed, mowing the lawn, etc. could each equal 15 minutes of screen time. Your child will learn about responsibility. And you will save some time.
- Keep screens out of the bedroom. Screens should be kept out of the bedroom throughout the year – even over the summer and on school breaks, when there’s temptation to let some rules go by the wayside. Getting regular, quality sleep is important to your child’s mental and physical health and development. And research shows that the presence of a TV or small screen in the bedroom can cause shorter and less restful sleep. That’s why young children should not have tablets, cell phones or TVs in their bedrooms. And it is never too late to place those restrictions on older children and teenagers.
- Schedule screen time. Limiting screen time does not mean banning electronics altogether. But know that being in front of a screen does switch your child’s brain to passive mode. That’s why it’s important to schedule screen time strategically. Save the morning hours for imaginative activities because that’s when minds are sharper. When it comes to allowing screen time, afternoon is best. This is when the sun is at its hottest and children have already exhausted themselves. Also try to make sure that the screen time your child does have comes in short intervals. I recommend aiming for 30 minutes and drawing the line at an hour, at most. Remember to have all electronics stashed away at least two hours before bedtime.
- Relax. Even if your family is always going with different activities, remember that it’s important to have some scheduled downtime, too. Boredom helps stimulate the creative processes in the brain, so do not be afraid of leaving periods of time on your calendar open and unbooked. Talk with your children to come up with a list of non-screen related activities they like to do. Then, when they are bored you can refer them to their list.
Screen time and time in the real world should be well-balanced. Be consistent, but not rigid in your rules. There might be days where a movie might run a little long or a new video game may make stopping difficult. If you have been limiting screen time, there can be a few occasional “treat” days thrown in. Remember these are recommendations – there is no magic number where bad or great things happen. The goal is to have healthy habits become a daily routine for your child and your family.
About Nate Chomilo, MD
Dr. Nate Chomilo is a general pediatrician and a hospital internist. He is passionate about helping families raise healthy and successful children and being an advocate for children within our communities. Dr. Chomilo has a special interest in early childhood literacy and health literacy in general. Outside of his position with Park Nicollet, he serves as the Medical Director for Reach Out and Read MN. This is a non-profit organization that promotes early childhood literacy in pediatric exam rooms.
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This just in: a 2019 Common Sense Media study shows that teens’ attachment to their phones and tablets doesn’t stop at bedtime:
– 29 percent have devices in bed with them all night.
– 39 percent keep them within reach.
– 11 percent have their devices in the room but out of reach.
– 19 percent park them in another room.
– At least 36 percent say they wake up at least once a night to check their devices.
– 32 percent check their devices within five minutes of waking up.
Parents have a similar pattern, with 62 percent keeping technology within easy reach overnight, but only 12 percent have smartphones or tablets with them in bed.
This flies in the face of the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation that bedrooms should be a “tech-free zone,” and the National Sleep Foundation’s suggestion that we should have a “digital curfew” at least 30 minutes before bedtime. For teens, ignoring these guidelines means that many are grumpy and unfocused during the day in school.