Children watching too much tv

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My ten-month old daughter seems to already have an unhealthy addiction to my mobile phone. She definitely knows the difference between my real phone and the toy phone I tried (and failed) to entice her with in order to win back ownership of my own phone. She also holds a pretty good conversation with her grandparents on our iPad and she has destroyed half of the keys on my Macbook. So even though her father and I are very careful about limiting her screen time, I am aware that sometimes we are guilty of paying more attention to our electronic devices than we really “should” – and so it is no wonder she has become interested in this piece of equipment that takes up so much of her mummy and daddy’s energy.

Of course, the term “screen time” applies to more than just mobile phones. In fact, it is used to describe any activity that is done in front of a screen – this might include watching TV, surfing the Internet, playing video games, and using a smartphone or iPad. All of these activities tend to be sedentary and there is much debate on not only how much time we spend on these activities but also the quality of what we are spending our time watching.

The current guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) discourage any screen time at all for infants under the age of 2 and from age 2 upwards the recommendation is up to 2 hours maximum screen time per day. However, in todays’ electronic driven world, we tend to have a plethora of devices in the household. Televisions, computers, several mobile phones, tablets, gaming devices… the list goes on! So is it realistic – or even desirable – for our children to not be exposed to screens?

Surely TV programmes in small doses that are educationally appropriate for the age actually can play a role in our child’s development. With IT changing so much all the time, wouldn’t it actually be better to make sure that our children “keep up” and learn how to use all these devices, rather than cutting them off from them.

While it may be a challenge to completely ban screen time, according to the AAP, there is actually very little educational benefit for children under 2 in any of the TV programmes, games or apps produced for babies – even those labelled and advertised as educational. In fact, infants’ brains are not yet at the stage where they can comprehend what is happening on the screen. After the age of two, there may be some value in programmes, within reason. More importantly, research has found that there are many negative effects and harm that comes of spending too much time in front of a screen – whether it be a television, a computer or a smartphone.

The negative effects caused by excessive screen time:

  1. Obesity – it goes without saying that the more time you spend in front of the TV, the less active you will be and that leads to a greater risk of being overweight. Not only that, but spending time in front of the TV seems to encourage children to eat more while immobile in front of the TV. Advertising geared towards kids can also lead to unhealthy food choices (read more about childhood obesity and advertising here)
  2. Screen time affects your infant or childs’ ability to sleep at night, which can lead to fatigue. The use of mobile phones has increased this issue in older children who keep their mobile phones in their room and continue to text after “lights out”.
  3. Behavioural issues – Students who spend too much time in front of a screen tend to develop attention problems – as well as social and emotional issues.
  4. Academic performance – research shows that children who watch excessive TV have delayed language development.

So it would seem there is a benefit in finding ways to reduce screen time for your children, your teens and even for yourself.

Ten strategies to help you to decrease your family’s screen time:

  1. Remove the TV, computer and mobile phones from your child’s bedroom. Keeping these devices in areas where you can monitor them to see what they are watching and how long for.
  2. Do not allow TV watching during meals and do not let your child eat in front of the TV or while on the computer.
  3. Set screen time rules – and don’t use screen time as a reward or punishment as this will make it more attractive to your children.
  4. Surprisingly, background TV seems to be one of the biggest culprits. Even TV that is just on in the background can draw your child’s attention away from active play so if you are not watching it, then switch it off.
  5. Be a good role model as a parent. Decrease your own screen time to 2 hours a day. Research has shown that where parents watch more TV then kids are being socialised to also watch more TV.
  6. Find strategies to monitor time spent in front of the TV – record programmes that you want to watch and watch them later on, suggest other activities, unplug it or put it away.
  7. Have a designated screen-free day for the whole family.
  8. Plan what you and your child are going to view. Seek the quality programmes and preview games and applications before allowing your child to view or play with them.
  9. Be an active parent. Watch programmes with your child and interact with them about the topic – use them as an active learning experience rather than a passive one.
  10. Record programmes and watch them later – enabling you to fast-forward through commercials selling junk food. Mute commercials during live TV.

Although, it might seem hard to achieve, it does look like finding ways to reduce screen time are beneficial for the whole family, while maintaining a balance that allows families to get the most out of their technology.

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