Screen time used to exclusively refer to television watching or playing video games, but now, with the presence of smart phones and tablets and the prevalence of social media, screen time is harder to define, and harder to measure.
The Common Sense Census: Media Use by Tweens and Teens has identified 4 key categories of screen time:
- Passive Consumption (watching TV, reading, listening to music)
- Interactive Consumption (playing games, and browsing the internet)
- Communication (video-chatting and using social media)
- Content creation (using devices to make digital art, writing, or music)
Teens (aged 13-18) spend about 9 hours a day in front of a screen, and tweens (aged 8-12 years) spend about 6 hours. 75% of teachers revealed that they think parents should limit the time their child spends online, and 58% stated that they think spelling is suffering as a consequence of increased screen time. Supporting this argument, a 2015 study by Cambridge University researchers found that, with every additional hour of screen time at age 14, GCSE results at age 16 were two grades lower than a peer spending less than an hour in front of a screen a day.
Nowadays, almost a third (32%) of children aged between 2 and 5 own an iPad.
Not only does screen time have visible relationships with educational outcomes, it has also been found to disrupt sleep. Brains are supposedly being stimulated by tablets and smart phones in a way that is not caused by books. This stimulation right before bed time can result in poorer sleep, meaning that, if no other time, bed time is a time to restrict screen time.
One argument opposing the idea that screen time is bad for kids states that electronics can both aid studying, and improve their ability to multitask. Increased screen time goes hand in hand with Increased availability, and need for, technology. To ban or reduce screen time might actually delay your child’s development, particularly for those who have an interest in technology.
One thing to consider before restricting screen time is how your child is spending this screen time, and how they behave before, during, and after. If the content is age-appropriate, screen time does not take away from other activities and family time, and their behavior is positive, then there’s little need to worry.
Some basic guidelines for restricting your child’s screen time include:
- No screen time for children under the age of 3
- A maximum of two hours of screen time for those aged 3-18
- Don’t allow screens (TV, Tablet, or Smart Phone) in your child’s bedroom. These devices emit something called “Blue Light” which disrupt children’s (and adults’) sleep
- Set some ground rules such as completing homework before screen time, or ensuring they do other activities as well such as a sports club or art.
- Explain your reasons to your child and point out the dangers of screen time clearly.
- Set a good example: children do what children see. If you are constantly checking your phone or spending hours in front of the TV every night, your child will consider this ‘the norm’ and want to do the same.
- Make sure that your child still enjoys activities away from screens and do not see these as a punishment or secondary. More screen time means less time for physical activity and it is important that your child is active. Combine this activity with face-to-face time with team sports or group classes such as hockey, football, or dancing.