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How Much is too Much Screen Time?
How Much is too Much Screen Time?
5th August 2020 - by Michaela Parisi
Navigating parenting in the digital age

There’s no way around it, we are living in a digital world. No matter where you are or what you do, technology is everywhere. And while this access to technology is beneficial in many ways, it often leaves parents wondering how screen time affects their child. Is allowing my child to play video games bad parenting? Do my kids need their own phones? How do I enforce boundaries with technology? So many questions come to mind when thinking about parenting and technology. 

Because your child will inevitably be required to use technology in their daily lives, whether it be for education, work, or entertainment purposes, you want to set them up for success. This means balancing teaching digital literacy with non-screen activities. In today’s blog I will walk you through what researchers are saying as well as how to implement their advice. 

Before reading about limitations and regulations of technology, please keep in mind that these are the five most common types of screen time for children:

  1. Television: This is not just network TV and movies, but also streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, Youtube.
  2. Video Games: This can be consoles, hand-held devices, mobile or computer games. 
  3. Social Media: This includes apps like Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Whatsapp, and many more. 
  4. Music: This can be audio files or music videos. 
  5. Reading: This includes articles, news, blogs, and eBooks.

father and daughter playing video games together

Education vs. Entertainment

The five types of screen time mentioned above can be used for two different purposes: education and entertainment. The problem parents often encounter when setting screen time limits, is that they do not take into consideration that one hour of educational screen time is not the same as one hour of entertainment screen time.

Technology for entertainment is what many parents think of when thinking about screen time. Things like watching TV and scrolling through social media are passive forms of entertainment, and the form of entertainment child development researchers are most concerned about. Oftentimes, entertainment technology is passive entertainment, meaning there is no give-and-take. A person can mindlessly watch TV or play certain video games without truly having to consider what is taking place in front of them. And recent research shows that children watch an average of 2-4 hours of television per day. This focus on passive entertainment has led to less goal-oriented play and lower scores on language proficiency tests. 

The National Center for Health Research found that children playing in a room with a TV on in the background play less intensely and creatively than those in a room without a TV. Additionally, parents in the same room were less attentive to their children and gave less encouragement. 

Scary? Yes. But keep in mind there is still technology for education. So what does that look like?  

Educational technology is more interactive. When children use technology for education they have to think critically about what is taking place on screen and interact with it in a goal-oriented manner. For example, when a child plays Math Monster on www.loonylearn.com, they have to not only answer the math question correctly, but also analyze the best route for the monster to take to get to the answer. They have to strategize, and receive corrective feedback on their actions. This type of technology uses different parts of the brain than passive entertainment technology. 

What’s more, educational screen time trains children how to use technology--something they need to learn. If your child doesn’t understand how to navigate a web page or create a PowerPoint, they will not be prepared for the future. This is why educational technology is necessary to incorporate into a child’s daily life and something to consider when developing screen time limitations.

Researcher Recommendations

Over the past 15 years access to technology has become more widespread. During this time researchers have been frantically trying to put together studies to discover what the effects of this digital explosion will be. However, the focus of much of this research has been on the negative aspects of technology, and little has been done to uncover its benefits. Additionally, because this is a relatively new field, there is still much research that needs to be done. As such, many of the recommendations these organizations have published have changed over the years as more data is compiled. 

Many researchers, including organizations like the National Center for Health Research, the World Health Organization, and the American Academy of Pediatrics provide recommendations for screen time limitations. While these recommendations may change, here is what these organizations are currently saying about screen time for children:

  1. Children younger than 24 months should not use screens other than for video chatting. During this stage of life they need to explore their environment and learn to communicate through face-to-face interactions. 
  2. Children ages 2-5 should be limited in screen time to one hour per day. Focus during this stage should be on active play to develop motor skills.
  3. Once children are 5 years old, use technology with your child to teach them proper usage. 
  4. Always have a technology-free zone for children to play. 
  5. Don’t use technology as a pacifier. Technology shouldn’t be something kids use only when you need time to yourself or to get stuff done. Encourage your children to do household chores with you, then sit down together to play games online
  6. Consider the three C’s--Content, Context, Child.

mother and children playing on tablet

Put It Into Practice

So how do you, as a parent, take this knowledge and apply it to your children? The first thing to do is to develop a plan. 

Here are some things to consider when writing your technology plan:

  • How much screen time each child is allowed and when? (Maybe you only allow them to be on the computer when you are home.)
  • How much of their screen time has to be active and how much can be passive? How much of the time has to be educational and how much can be entertainment? (Maybe you allow them additional screen time if it is active, educational screen time instead of passive entertainment.)
  • What forms of technology are they allowed to use? 
  • What websites are they allowed to be on? Do they have to get approval by you before they visit a website or watch a video? (Maybe the content has to meet the minimum “Three C’s” score for your child to be able to access it.)
  • Can they receive additional screen time if it is with an adult? 
  • Can they increase their screen time limits by doing chores or physical activity?

If the thought of developing your own technology plan is overwhelming, here is a template you can use.  

After you have created your plan, sit down with your children and explain to them the plan and why these guidelines are important. If you explain your reasoning to your children, they are more likely to respect the limitations.  

Once you have done this, hang the rules somewhere so the kids can see it, and begin establishing these rules as norms. Sit down with your child and ask them if they want to spend some of their educational technology time with you. Teach them how to navigate the websites, and tell them that if they have any questions or concerns about technology they can come to you. Having an open line of communication and trust will make sticking to the plan much easier. 

I hope this helped you understand the current technology recommendations and how to establish technology guidelines with your child. If you have any other topics you would like me to cover, or have questions about today’s blog, email info@loonylearn.com.

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