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Watch and Learn: Making Good Decisions about Screen Time

Tuesday, August 25, 2015 8:16 AM

It’s hard to avoid screens these days. Between television, computers, tablets and cell phones, kids have easy access to hours of entertainment. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children under the age of two should not have any screen time, while children older than two should only be in front of a screen for one to two hours a day at most. In reality, the averages are much higher; kids are spending 7 or more hours watching programs/videos, texting and playing games. This can be troubling, especially in younger children, as too much screen time can increase the risks of childhood obesity, poor language development and unhealthy sleep patterns.

Finding a balance between screen time and other activities can seem like a big task. Amanda Britt, MD, a pediatrician at NorthShore, provides some tips for how to make the most out of your child’s digital time so that it is both productive and educational.

  • Lay down rules. Screen time can be a big distraction from schoolwork. By establishing rules for school days, study time and mealtime, as well as setting time limits for watching shows, playing games and browsing online, you can help to curb the distraction and encourage kids to be focused on their education as well. Also, don’t forget bedtime rules; set a rule of no electronics one hour before bedtime (the lights and activity disrupt sleep), and have a separate alarm clock available that isn’t on their phones.
  • Choose good materials. By choosing quality programs and online activities, children have the opportunity to learn all about problem solving, math, words, creativity, science and more – all while having fun. Do your research to find programs, apps and games that will best suit your child and their age.
  • Communicate. What’s on the screen may not seem frightening or confusing to an adult, but children’s brains are still developing and their impression of these images can be totally different. By sitting down and talking to them about what they’re seeing and playing, you can put your kids at ease and help them learn how to process what they experience in a healthy way. It’s more important than ever to help children understand why the behaviors they see on TV or in online videos, as well as in video games aren’t meant to be copied in real life.
  • Pay attention. By the age of 18, kids are exposed to approximately 200,000 acts of violence on television, as well as adult content in video games and online. This can be traumatic and confusing, especially for younger children still learning about right and wrong. Make sure that before your child watches a program or buys a game, you check the TV rating or game rating. You can also use a V chip to block inappropriate shows, set parental blocks on adult websites and download a parental control app to monitor cell phone content.
  • Get educated. Both you and your child should be aware of the hazards that can come from communicating online and on cell phones. That’s why it’s important for parents to become more familiar with the technology their kids are using, as well as looking at the popular sites and programs that are available. Educating yourself on internet safety will be very helpful in knowing what to look out for when it comes to keeping kids safe online.
  • Pick the right location. By leaving the TV, computer and other electronic devices out of bedrooms and far from study areas, you eliminate one of the easiest ways for kids to be distracted while they’re working or getting ready for bed. If you have younger children, you can also put the TV and game consoles in a place that has other, non-electronic forms of entertainment so they don’t feel the need to focus solely on the screens.

NorthShore is a proud sponsor of Moochie Kalala Detectives Club, an educational children’s show on PBS that teaches kids about arts and sciences while featuring some of Chicago’s best museums, zoos and educational resources.

What's your best tip for managing screen time in your home?