The advances in technology mean today’s parents are the first generation who have to figure out how to limit screen time for children. While digital devices can provide endless hours of entertainment and offer educational content, unlimited screen time can be harmful to your child’s development, and physical as well as mental health.
It is of little surprise that the Philippines unenviable reputation as the ‘text capital of the world’ now has a population of addicted ‘Netizens’ wedded to their smartphones and tablets.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends parents place a reasonable limit on entertainment media. Despite those recommendations, children between the ages of 8 and 18 average 7 ½ hours of entertainment media per day, according to a 2010 study by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.
Children can develop symptoms of computer vision syndrome in the same way as adults. Excessive screen time can lead to eye dryness, irritation, fatigue, blurry vision, headaches, and eyestrain.
One study looked at specific factors related to children that may make them more prone to computer vision syndrome. When playing a video game on a screen, children can play for prolonged periods of time with great concentration, leading to excessive dryness and accommodation, leading to symptoms of strain. As well, it is well known that children often don’t complain of blurry vision because they may assume everyone sees the way they do.
Desktop computers are often positioned for adults and may be too high for children, causing them to look up, leaving the eyes more exposed and the neck more susceptible to strain.
There are also many studies looking at the effect of computer use on the development and behavior of children, and these should also be considerations when establishing appropriate screen time for children.
The problems with screens
Unstructured playtime is more valuable for a young child’s developing brain than is electronic media. Children younger than age 2 are more likely to learn and remember information from a live presentation than they are from a video.
By age 2, children can benefit from some types of screen time, such as programming with music, movement and stories. By watching together, you can help your child understand what he or she is seeing and apply it in real life. However, passive screen time shouldn’t replace reading, playing or problem-solving.
As your child grows, keep in mind that too much or poor quality screen time has been linked to:
- Irregular sleep schedules and shorter duration of sleep
- Behavioral problems
- Loss of social skills
- Less time for play
Developing screen time rules
The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages media use, except for video chatting, by children younger than 18 to 24 months. If you introduce digital media to children ages 18 to 24 months, make sure it’s high quality and avoid solo media use. For children ages 2 to 5, limit screen time to one hour a day of high-quality programming.
As your child grows, a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work as well. You’ll need to decide how much media to let your child use each day and what’s appropriate.
Consider applying the same rules to your child’s real and virtual environments. In both, play with your child, teach kindness, be involved, and know your child’s friends and what your child does with them. Also, keep in mind that the quality of the media your child is exposed to is more important than the type of technology or amount of time spent.
To ensure quality screen time:
- Preview programs, games and apps before allowing your child to view or play with them. Organisations such as Common Sense Media can help you determine what’s appropriate. Better yet, watch, play or use them with your child.
- Seek out interactive options that engage your child, rather than those that just require pushing and swiping or staring at the screen.
- Use parental controls to block or filter internet content.
- Make sure your child is close by during screen time so that you can supervise his or her activities.
- Ask your child regularly what programs, games and apps he or she has played with during the day.
- When watching programming with your child, discuss what you’re watching and educate him or her about advertising and commercials.
Also, avoid fast-paced programming, which young children have a hard time understanding, apps with a lot of distracting content, and violent media. Eliminate advertising on apps, since young children have trouble telling the difference between ads and factual information.
Managing your child’s use of screens and media will be an ongoing challenge. But by developing household rules and revisiting them as your child grows you can help ensure a safe experience.