Keep Screen Time a Positive Experience

Keep Screen Time a Positive Experience

Casey Hester, M.D., a pediatrician at Oklahoma Children’s Hospital OU Health, gives some insight in to how “screen time” can have a positive or negative effect on children.

Does excessive screen time have negative effects?

Yes, and the harmful effects are well documented through scientific research. That’s why the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting screen time for children, and supports parental supervision. A strong link exists between obesity and depression and more time spent on screen. There is also evidence of negative impact on psychosocial development, sleep and school performance. AAP calls for no screen time at all for children until 18 to 24 months, except for supervised video chatting, and says kids ages 2 to 5 should have no more than an hour of total screen time per day, including TV and computer use.

How can parents create healthy boundaries for screen time?

Children can’t imagine life before smartphones, tablets and the internet. Technology is a constant presence in modern culture that has changed or at least influenced every way we function as a society. While there are benefits and advantages in global connection, the media, communications and entertainment are often manipulative, and not always fair or friendly. As a parent, you have a responsibility, beginning in infancy, to help your child manage these influences.

  • Children imitate adults – and especially parental - behavior, so constructive modeling has the best chance of helping establish healthy habits. Be honest about your own social media use and screen time. If you spend hours on your phone, engaged in social media or watching Netflix on TV, your children are very likely to follow your lead.
  • It may require discipline to choose non-screen activities where you and your children play together. For toddlers and young children, keep a ready supply of items that encourage imaginative play – a dress-up chest with costumes and plenty of arts and crafts materials, for example. Accept that creativity may be a little messy and let the stress go. Celebrate it as a sign of healthy development.
  • When you do engage in screen time together, focus on quality programming and actively look for opportunities to interact during videos:
    • “What color is her dress? Yes, yellow! You are so smart.”
    • “See how the papa bear plays with his cub? Do you know you’re my ‘cub’?”
    • “What do you want to do the next time we play outside?”

How can parents help older kids enjoy healthy and constructive screen time?

Social media and texting are now the primary forms of communication among adolescent peers. Given the abundance of apps favored by teens, parents must educate themselves about what they are and how they’re used. Teen favorites include hundreds of themed video games, Instagram, TikTok and countless others.

  • Don’t underestimate the risk of exposure to questionable content and predatory individuals through social media and video gaming platforms. Because these threats are real and well-known, parents must closely monitor internet and screen habits of their older children. It may be a challenge to find the balance between your child’s natural quest for greater independence and the need to earn your trust. Clear expectations are important:
    • set limits on time and location of use;
    • define appropriate supervision;
    • discuss what apps are and are not allowed.

Expectations and limits create an environment for healthy communication that builds trust between older children and their parents.

  • Privacy is secondary to safety. Parents may need to exercise their authority to check their child’s phone at any time. It’s not about power. It’s about protection. Children should never have apps on their devices without their parents’ knowledge and approval. Ideally, children should not have a TV in the bedroom, nor have access to any devices at night.
  • Do not allow devices at meals.
  • Modeling matters. Don’t give your phone more attention than the people who are present.
  • Consider having a weekly “screen-free” family night. Play games, do activities outside, and remind each other that talking face to face is still the most meaningful and rewarding way to connect.

Need more tips on screen time and raising a healthy thriving kiddo, the pediatric experts at Oklahoma Children’s Hospital are here for you. Learn more about our primary care services for children and schedule an appointment today.