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Parents Need to Step Up And Limit Screen Time
Every parent knows that their children spend a lot of time in front of a screen. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is concerned about this, even if parents, seemingly, are not. The Academy has just issued a Policy Statement, “Children, Adolescents and the Media,” to help pediatricians and parents find ways to keep kids' screen time within healthier limits.
Children and adolescents are now spending more time each day with media (TV, iPads, cell phones, etc.) than they do in school. Recent studies put the screen time among 8- to 10-year-olds at almost eight hours daily; teenagers log in for over 11 hours each day.
One Hundred Texts A Day
Widespread Internet access and cell phone ownership (75% of 12- to 17-year-olds) are what is fueling this excessive use of screens in children’s lives. Over half of teens surveyed say they send 50 texts a day, and over a third sends 100 per day.
Certainly some screen content and social media can make positive contributions to learning and behavior. It is also true, however, that excessive screen time has been liked to overweight, low physical activity, mental health issues, poor sleep, daytime fatigue, and lower academic achievement. There are also the immediate risks involved in texting while walking or driving.
According to the AAP, most parents are doing very little to curb children's and teens' screen time. About 70% of children and teens have a TV in their bedroom according to a recent study. Two-thirds of children and teenagers reported that their parents did not establish any rules about media use. Another study showed that 60% teens texted after lights out at bedtime.
A Battle Many Parents Are Reluctant to Pick
It is understandable that parents may feel that, particularly when it comes to teens, it is not worth it to pick a battle that seems nearly impossible to "win." Confiscating cells phones at bedtime is not necessarily practical, especially when many teens are up later than their parents, and texting can serve a useful purpose when homework issues arise.
But parents are the front line of defense, and there are things parents can do, including modeling moderation when it comes to screen time. The AAP is urging healthcare providers to ask parents two media-related questions at every well-child visit:
Signs of Media Overconsumption
Not every child has a media problem. It pays to know the sorts of things to look for. The AAP recommends exploring a child's media use in more depth if he or she exhibits behaviors that tend to reflect excessive or negative media exposure: behavior and emotional problems including apathy and depression, overweight, substance use and abuse, and school difficulties.
The first step is for pediatricians, parents — and children — to become aware of how and how much media use is taking over a child's life. Time spent on the Internet is time not doing something else. The Academy hopes that the questions above will launch a discussion between providers and parents and within families as to how to address the issue.
In their recent Policy Statement, the Academy offers several concrete suggestions for parents and families:
For some children, a gradual approach is likely to be best. Depending on their children's ages, parents can begin by discussing the dangers of too much screen time and asking children to reduce it by a show a day or by instituting a screen-free half hour or hour every evening.
Time to Step Up
Parents need to first acknowledge that too much screen time can have a negative impact on social, physical, and emotional health and academic achievement. Then they need to help their children and teenagers understand these potential ill effects, while also recognizing the pleasure and benefits that screen time brings.
Parents should know they can turn to their healthcare providers for help, both to discuss the risks of media use and when they notice worrisome behavior which may suggest the overuse of media or exposure to inappropriate content. Providers can also help make sure children are focused on the risks too much media poses, and support parents' efforts to curb screen time, even if it is by just an hour a day.
Everyone — parents and children — binges on media now and then. Let your kids know you are not trying to end their screen time completely and be honest if you struggle to keep your usage under control as well, offering up any techniques you've found useful.
It is when parents and children recognize they are spending too much fruitless time in front of a screen and take it seriously that they can do what is needed to prevent it in the future. Some strategies for moderation may be all that are needed. Install software that limits Internet access; go outside and leave your phone and tablet computer behind; set a timer when visiting sites that tend to lead you or your child to over-indulge.
The Policy Statement, published in Pediatrics is freely available.
November 26, 2013