How much screen time is healthy for children?

New research in the UK reveals four on five parents believe gadgets aid their child’s development, but how much screen time is healthy?

The reason behind all this gadget use is that over a third of parents (35 percent) said they use tech gadgets to entertain their children because they are convenient and nearly a quarter (23 percent) because they want their children to be tech-savvy.

Wanting our children to tech-savvy is understandable, and the need to keep them entertained (while we work or just tidy up after them!) will also make sense to many a parent. But we must also weigh up the risks associated with children having too much screen time.

In his lecture ‘Managing Screen Time and Screen Dependency’ Dr Aric Sigman argues that “whether it’s Facebook, the internet or computer games, screen time is no longer merely a cultural issue about how children spend their leisure time, nor is it confined to concern over the educational value or inappropriate content – it’s a medical issue”.

Sigman is concerned less with a child’s use of computers for homework, but more with their screen time in non-educational environments He has some strong recommendations for reducing children’s screen time, from toddlers to teenagers – and adults, too.

His simple answer to the title question is none for children under two. Children aged 2-5 years should have no more than an hour a day, and children aged 5-18 years should have no more than two hours a day. That’s a tough call for teenagers, especially with homework often requiring computer time. But remember that the real danger is non-educational, leisure screen time, so you may wish to discount homework screen time.

He adds that parents shouldn’t allow TVs, computers or any screen-based device into a child’s bedroom. Even though it may be difficult, you should take the screens away from the bedroom. Otherwise you risk your child’s cognitive and physical health.

Most parents haven’t devised screen-time protocols for their children, and need to create media-free zones in their homes, banish TV dinners, and put away their own digital devices when communicating with their children, he urges.

Don’t just switch off the TV, tablet or computer – explain to your child why you are limiting screen time. Discuss the health benefits of reduced screen time. Children will listen to the health reasons for reduced screen time if the dangers are clearly pointed out.

Ever catch yourself checking your email, using your smartphone or watching TV while your child is trying to talk to you? Stop using the device and communicate with your child face to face. This will help establish empathy and also set a good example of the child.

So screen time is Ok but it must be limited.

Photo Credit:  Freepik