When you were a kid, did you camp out on the couch with your siblings and fight over what show you’d watch on the family TV? Today, your kids have decidedly fewer limits when it comes to controlling a screen. They can watch many at once, and carry them wherever they go.
As amazing as the technology is, your child can benefit from less time with it. Outside of homework, school-aged kids should spend no more than an hour or two with a screen every day, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
“There are a lot of potential harmful effects of screen time on kids, from newborns up to late adolescents and even young adults,” says Craig Anderson, PhD, distinguished professor of psychology at Iowa State University.
When kids watch a lot of fast-paced shows that switch quickly from scene to scene, they may later have trouble when they need to focus in the classroom, Anderson says.
Kids who spend too much time in front of a screen can have other problems, too, like too little sleep or too much weight gain, says David Hill, MD, chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Communications and Media.
Plus, he says, kids who watch TV and play video games for hours each day may miss out on face-to-face opportunities to learn, time to play outside, and connections with friends. “Our greatest question should be, 'What is this screen time displacing?'” he says.
How to Make the Cut
With screens everywhere, it may seem even harder to cut down on a child’s time with them. But limits are worth it. Try these tips to pry them off those devices -- at least, for a little while.
1. Don’t give your kids their own tablet or smartphone. “Interact with your children. Do that instead of handing them an electronic device,” says Steven Gortmaker, PhD, professor of the practice of health sociology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
2. Make computers and TVs stay in the shared spaces of your home. When your kids use screens in the kitchen or living room, it’s easier to keep an eye on the shows they watch, the games they play, and the websites they’re on.