A day off! Whether it's from work or school, the fantasy of vegging out on the couch with the TV blaring isn't the healthiest thing you can do for your body. As a matter of fact, experts say that screen time for everyone should be limited to two hours or less per day; the only exceptions to this recommendation should include work or homework.
Screen time can be watching television, staring at your computer screen, playing video games or checking mobile devices for emails and social media updates. Children especially should be encouraged to participate in physical activities for a minimum of 60 minutes per day. That means parents have to set a good example.
The American College of Pediatricians issued a statement in 2016 linking excessive exposure to "screens" in young children to lower academic achievements, difficulty sleeping, obesity, lower self-esteem and behavior problems. Parents are cautioned to monitor their own use of smartphones and television in order to increase interaction with their children. A study in 2010 showed that the average child between the ages of 8 and 18 used various media (aka screen time) at least 7 1/2 hours daily. There was another study that showed 18-year-olds spent at least 40 hours per week at home on the internet.
As children grow, their interest in electronic media diversifies. In addition to watching TV and playing simplified computer games, they choose interactive activities like staying in touch with long-distance friends, research subjects on the internet and get creative with music, art and writing. Parents are prompted to observe their children's behavior when watching TV or spending time on the computer. Remember that even if their screen time appears to be beneficial, they still need to balance their lives with healthy off-screen activities and physical exercise.
Parents who are concerned with the amount of time their children spend on screens should definitely try to schedule their media use and other activities. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children younger than 18 months shouldn't spend any screen time except for possibly video-chatting with long distance relatives; children 2 to 5 years old shouldn't get more than one hour per day of supervised screen time, preferably it should be educational or creative; and for older children parents should schedule a consistent schedule with limited screen time (no more than two hours daily) except for homework.
Other studies suggest that the majority of parents have difficulty imposing screen-time limits while nearly 40 percent do set some kind of limits. Kelly, a mom of two, pointed out, "it depends on what they are doing with their screen time." A few teenagers added that "reading is very important and having a Kindle (electronic book) is very good." Another parent stated that it depends on the child, how they are doing in school and how cooperative they are around the house.
Monika, a mother of two adolescent boys and a preteen daughter doesn't limit the time her children spend online or in front of the TV so long as homework and chores are complete and bed times are met, however two evenings every week is screen time moratorium for everyone in the household. "They know the rules on Tuesday and Thursdays. These are the set days, and they never hassle me about it. They go off, do other things, play games, read and draw. This works really well in our house and makes it a lot less stressful than some of my friends' households." She added that her children normally do not spend more than one or two hours online per night.
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has introduced a campaign called "We Can!" and offers free downloadable resources for parents to use in helping their children live healthier lifestyles. Go to their website to find several Reduce Screen Time Tools and Resources. Parents will find tips to help their families find the right balance of eating well and being physically active, and to help children reduce screen time. "We Can!" offers three curricula that address screen time reduction one of which address parents' concerns and the others to help motivate adolescents and teens.