How to budget your child's screen time?

In 2020, the reasons for spending more time in front of screens have multiplied, driven by various factors. Statistical data on child and adolescent screen time indicates that children under the age of 6, on average, engage in about 2 hours of screen media per day. As children progress in age, their screen time tends to escalate. Notably, kids and teenagers between 8 and 18 years old dedicate almost 5 hours daily to television viewing and an additional nearly 4 hours on the computer, which includes homework activities. When considering all forms of media, individuals in the 8 to 18 age group allocate an average of 9 hours and 38 minutes to entertainment media throughout a standard day. Screen devices used by children encompass cellular phones, laptops, desktops, televisions, and tablets. While both children and adults may have legitimate reasons for being in front of screens due to work and school commitments, it remains crucial to acknowledge that excessive screen time, especially for kids, carries negative consequences that they cannot afford to overlook.

The negative impact of too much screen time for kids may include but is not limited to, reduced physical fitness and decreased brain development. Child experts agree that children are healthier when they spend less time sitting in front of a screen, i.e. computer screen, cell phone screen, or television screen.  More screen time usually means less time being physically active, resulting in children who spend their time being sedentary.  Children already spend 6+ hours per day sitting during school hours. After adding to that more hours of screen time, children spend more time than ever before being sedentary.  A sedentary lifestyle increases the risk of obesity in childhood and adolescence. Studies show that obese children are more likely to become obese adults with health complications. Also, when children use screen time as a replacement for recreational time to get away from the daily drudgery of dreaded homework, they miss out on key opportunities for physical movement that build brain connections. It is noteworthy to mention that when children engage in physical activities, it floods the brain with important nutrients and neurotrophins. Physical movement helps the brain form those neural pathways, a process called neurogenesis.  Limiting your child’s physical activity may limit brain development. A sedentary lifestyle changes your child’s brain structure literally.  However, there is hope for children when parents introduce healthy habits and a more active lifestyle. 

Child's Screen Time:

  • Set a regular schedule of activities - 

    This means that there is a set schedule for everything. Be creative and get kids involved. However, remember you are the parent! Your schedule can grow and change with your family.
  • Set specific times and time limits -

    When you allocate specific times with time limits, children are more likely to stick to the limitations you set on screen times.
  • Encourage activities that require movement - 

    Spend time being active with your children and encourage them to choose from some activities they enjoy. Some examples may include: tennis, basketball, baseball, swimming, running, hiking, gardening, bicycling, walking, and karate. 
  • Keep screens in the family area -

    One option I have had success with in my family is keeping all screens in the family area. Studies have shown that children with televisions in their bedrooms watch double the hours of television than those without televisions in their bedrooms. Plus, keeping screens in the family area keeps kids on schedule, allows parents to monitor activity, and helps kids with homework. It also helps to keep the lines of communication open. Family communication is less likely to happen if everyone is in their rooms on different screens.
  • Make family meals sacred “screen-free” times - 

    This could be a life-changing habit that is the beginning of less screen time at a generational level. For now, let us start small. With the changing times, meals have become less about the family and more about convenience. With varied schedules, spending meal times together just is not feasible. Whether this means you have to “schedule” some actual family meals or not, make it a priority to get your priorities in order when it comes to your family time. Remember, make the special moments together screen-free to facilitate actual conversations.

Remember, you are the parent. It is up to you to set limits for your child.

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