The world around us is changing so fast and technology is evolving faster than most of us can handle. For many parents, this means that our children’s experiences in school and during social time are far different than our experiences were as children. My children often laugh when I explain that my childhood did not include a smartphone, tablet, XBox, or even cable. In fact, my children probably couldn’t even identify a VHS tape! So how do we as parents then reconcile the advantages that these new pieces of tech provide while knowing when technology has become too much? While rules and expectations differ from home to home (as they should), here is what many child life experts are saying.
While it may be easy to allow children to get lost in a television show, an iPad game, or even some video games after school, pediatricians and researchers have seen a sharp increase in screen time for children since 2002 that should alarm parents. A study released last year by the World Health Organization (WHO) found “a continuous steep increase” in screen time between 2002 and 2014 in Europe, with about 65 percent of girls and nearly 75 percent of boys claiming they now use computers for two hours or more on weekdays. This contributes to kids spending more than 60 percent of their waking hours sitting. This particular study, which was focused on 27 countries, analyzed the scary health risks, including childhood obesity, that can occur when a child or adolescent is sedentary for large amounts of time due to excessive screen time. One of the first things parents should become aware of is just how much time is being spent on technology, whether it is social media, video games, tv, or computer time. Once you have a good sense of how much time is really spent in front a screen, you can start to help your child balance that time with other activities such as hanging out with friends, reading, going outside or playing games.
So when should parents require that their child “unplug” and get outside for a while, or at least move on to another activity? This question can be very difficult as these types of activities, especially screen time that allows children to connect to peers and learn something new, can be so advantageous. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends keeping babies under 18 months away from screens unless they’re video chatting. Kids between the ages of 2 and 5 should be cut off at an hour a day, and others shouldn’t exceed two hours, according to the Academy. What’s most important as parents is to help your child begin to monitor themselves by mentoring and guiding them to choose a healthy balance between screen time and the rest of the world.