We are raising children in a time unlike any before. A time when screens are so prevalent that most kids understand how to operate a tablet or smartphone by the tender young age of 2. Of course, this causes us parents to wonder and worry whether giving our kids access to screens is the right thing.
There haven’t been many studies on the long-term effects of screen time during childhood. While some of the studies that have been done do suggest some negative effects of large amounts of screen time, they have given vague results at best as scientists struggle to decipher whether certain results are a cause or an effect of children becoming addicted to screens. Therefore, we are left to fend for ourselves until we have more solid evidence to base our decisions on.
Fortunately, our gut instinct tends to lead us in the right direction when it comes to parenting decisions. Remaining informed and open-minded—as well as paying attention to how screens affect our children as individuals—should make it easy to set boundaries that feel natural and right to us.
The Benefits of Screens
Ever since the dawn of the household television, screens have had a bad reputation. Often said to “rot children’s brains”, many parents refuse to see anything but bad in the screens that surround us.
That said, there is plenty of good these devices have to offer, and weighing the good against the bad is always the best way to make difficult parenting choices. Therefore, we are first going to take a good look at the benefits of screens for kids.
Benefit #1: Technical Literacy
Computers and smartphones are now a part of everyday life for the average American. Knowing how to use these items is crucial for holding a job, and having skills using certain programs or coding knowledge is becoming more and more valuable.
Allowing your children to experiment with computers from a young age will increase their technical literacy, something that will likely be helpful as they grow older.
Benefit #2: Engaging Introductions to a Variety of Subjects
The variety of things you can learn from videos and games is endless, and new educational media options are being put out into the world on a daily basis. By handpicking the content your children are allowed to use on their tablets or computers, your devices could actually become very valuable educational tools.
Additionally, by giving your kids fun ways to learn new things and allowing them to help you curate their apps, games, and videos, you’ll be setting your kids up to become lifelong learners who love gaining new knowledge and know exactly how to find it.
Benefit #3: Effective Parenting Tool
This final benefit is one that many people frown upon. That said, sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do, and we think most parents would agree that tablet time is a very effective parenting tool in certain situations.
After all, if you have to take your kid to an important meeting, or even if you just need a tiny bit of quiet time for sanity’s sake, being able to hand your kid a tablet full of educational material certainly can be a lifesaver.
The Negative Effects of Too Much Screen Time
While plenty of good can come from allowing a child some time on a tablet or computer, we all know it’s possible to have too much of a good thing. The aforementioned studies have suggested a number of issues that could be caused by excessive amounts of screen time in childhood.
Negative #1: Obesity
As you might imagine, more time spent in front of a screen leads to less time spent outside running around. Kids are meant to move, and when they don’t do so, extra weight tends to show up.
We all know how terrible obesity is on a body, and nobody wants this for their kids. Limiting screen time and ensuring our kids are getting plenty of time for running, climbing, and jumping is crucial for avoiding this situation.
Negative #2: Diminished Academic Success
Some studies have suggested that kids who spend two hours or more on their screens each day score lower on thinking and language tests. This translates to diminished academic success and can cause many more problems down the road.
That said, these results are not definitive, and it seems that those who spend fewer than two hours on their tablets or computers do not suffer from these issues.
Negative #3: Sleep Disruption
Did you know that the blue light from screens can cause sleeping problems when used too close to bedtime? This has been proven and explained by science. Poor sleep can result in poor performance in school and other activities, as well as a host of other issues.
Negative #4: Weak Problem-Solving Skills
It’s also logical to assume that too much tablet time—especially if that time is spent taking advantage of passive entertainment—could result in weaker problem-solving skills. Considering how important problem-solving skills and thinking outside the box has become in the modern workforce, this certainly isn’t something we want for our children.
How to Balance Screen Time in Your Family
So how do you go about offering your children some screen time for increasing their technical literacy and allowing them to explore educational topics without suffering from these negative effects? The answer to this is different for every family. That said, most experts agree that 30–60 minutes of screen time per day is a good amount for any child.
Below are some other ideas for keeping things balanced and avoiding screen time problems.
Screen Time Last
Require certain things before screen time can happen. For instance, make sure your kids have plenty of outside time, do their chores and homework, and get in some exercise before they can have a few minutes on their tablets.
Scheduled Screen Time
Scheduled screen time also tends to work out well, and many families choose to schedule their screen time for weekends only.
Use a Timer
If your child has a hard time when it’s time for their tablet or computer to go off, try setting a timer. It’s hard to argue that a timer is wrong when it says time is up.
Choose Content Wisely
Carefully pick and choose what your children are allowed to do on their tablets or computers. Download apps that you feel are useful in some way rather than mindless games, and check out all shows and movies before you allow your children to watch.
No Evening Screens
Finally, set a cutoff time for screens in your house. Make this at least an hour before bed in order to help prevent sleep problems caused by too much screen time.