Updated: Jun 2, 2020
We’re more digitally conscious than ever before
Last year 1 in 3 Americans took steps to improve their own digital well-being. (1)
This shows that we are well aware of the negative impacts that too much screen time can have and many of us already know how to make changes.
However if you are concerned about how much screen time your children are having, you’re not alone, in fact you’re among the majority of parents. (1)
Average screen time for teens
This graph shows that 29% of our teens are getting more than eight hours per day of screen time. (2)
This is shocking but what’s worse is that this data is from before Coronavirus stopped the world in its tracks.
This data is pre-pandemic meaning that these incredible figures are undoubtedly even higher right now with most of the world’s children are at home from school.
Is screen time bad for kids?
We tend to think of screen time as being all about smartphones, tablets and computers and forget about the very first screen to invade our homes and become part of all our lives, the TV.
We’ve known for years now that more time spent watching TV is associated with children’s obesity (3) and that parents of overweight youngsters should be limiting screen time to help their kids get their health back. (4)
Too much low quality screen time can damage children’s sleep, social skills and behaviour (5) and too much junk TV or mindless video game playing can also harm children’s academic performance. (6)
It’s not all about how much time children spend with screens though. It's about the quality of the time they are spending in front of screens.
It’s how devices are being used rather than how much that makes a difference and children’s social lives, health and education should always take priority. (7)
When kids are home from school, devices are the only way for them to access their social life and education, so these should be the main things that they are used for.
There are easy ways to cut down on junk video watching such as using the Youtube Kids app.
Sedentary vs active screen time
Too much sedentary screen time is dangerous for children’s health when it takes away from time that would have been spent being active or moving.
There is such a thing as active screen time though: this is when screen time involves hands on activity or movement rather than just sitting still and watching. For example children could be practising Yoga at home for free using online videos or apps. Other examples could be dancing, action songs, dough disco and hand/finger rhymes.
Screen time that encourages children's active thought can be beneficial, for example you could teach your child how to type, send emails to their friends, use Microsoft Word to write stories, tell digital stories using iPad apps or find out more about their world on Google Earth.
Recommended screen time for kids
Last year the World Health Organisation recommended that children below two years of age do not get any screen time at all and that children from two to five years old should be limited to an hour a day or less. (8)
For children six and up the most important thing is that screen time shouldn't interfere with their daily life and habits like sleeping, eating, socialising and being active.
Consider whether screen time is helping or hurting
Many young people actually use technology to access valuable information, educate themselves or reach out and make connections that support their health. In many cases children may have suffered had they not had the chance to do this.
Some uses of technology such as browsing social media can have negative effects on some whilst having positive effects on others. The effects of social media on our mental health can also depend on how it’s used. For example, do children connect and contribute or do they passively watch or browse other people’s conversations?
Take care of children’s eyes during distance learning
Extended use of devices and screens can cause certain eye problems in children which are collectively referred to as Digital Eye Strain. (AKA 'Computer Vision Syndrome') All the screen time that distance learners and children in lockdown are having makes them even more vulnerable to Digital Eye Strain. As parents, it’s important to watch out for the signs that your child’s eyes are suffering because the last thing we want is for children’s learning or their social lives to suffer!
How can vision problems affect my child’s learning?
Just like any state of ill-health, hunger or tiredness, eye strain may stop your child from wanting to do their online learning. Keep in mind that young children may not be aware that this is what is putting them off and it might take some parental investigation skills to uncover the reasons behind their lack of interest.
How the 20-20-20 rule can protect children's eyes
The 20-20-20 rule is an easy way to prevent and reduce the effects of digital eye strain that is perfect for kids doing distance learning.
Here’s how it works: Every 20 minutes, spend 20 seconds looking away from the screen at something that is 20 feet away from you.
So children working on computers or devices should take a 20-second break every 20 minutes to look at something that’s 20 feet away.
If you’re not sure how far 20 feet is you could look across a large room or (much better in my opinion) look out of the window! Kids should spend 20 seconds looking out of the window and then return to their device for up to another 20 minutes.
You could set a timer on your phone to remind your child or you could use a timer on the device that your child is actually using to really make sure they don’t miss their break!
Most devices today have timers built-in. For example, the iPhone’s timer is in the clock application (see above) and Windows computers have a timer too - see the screenshots below for how to set a twenty-minute timer on Windows.
If problems do persist and you think they are eye-related, you may want to take your child to an eye doctor to make sure their eyes are nice and healthy! 👀😊
Set the example with parental screen time
It has been shown that our children’s screen time habits are influenced by the digital habits of their parents (9) so as with anything you’d like your child to do or stop doing, you’ll need to be the role model!
Supervise children using the internet
In a recent webinar on well-being for children in lockdown, Debbie Roberts (educational consultant and author) urged parents to always supervise children and teenager’s use of the internet. (10)
This is so important, not just for our children’s safety online but also because you can often help to make what’s being viewed more meaningful. If an adult is present, children have someone to ask questions to if they don't understand something. Not only this but being aware of what your child has watched might be helpful if they bring it up in conversation later on. Remember - children learn socially, so chatting about what you have watched together can turn something quite passive and unproductive into a learning opportunity.
Teach your children digital mindfulness
Digital mindfulness means that we consider whether our online habits are productive and healthy or if they’re harming us. We should teach our children to do the same so that they can avoid falling into unhealthy browsing habits or overusing technology.
It’s impossible to keep track of everything children do online. If your children have some awareness of healthy digital habits Children are much more likely to stick to boundaries if they have had a part in setting them and they understand the need for them.
This could be a great chance to learn to tell the time so that kids can see for themselves how long they’ve been online or time their own breaks away from the screen.
1. Google (2019) 2019 research review: Standards are being raised in privacy and digital wellbeing [online] Available at: https://www.thinkwithgoogle.com/data-collections/privacy-standards-data/
2. Rideout, V., and Robb, M. B. (2019) The Common Sense census: Media use by tweens and teens, 2019. San Francisco, CA: Common Sense Media
3. Gortmaker, Must, A., Sobol, A. M., Peterson, K. E., Colditz, G. A. and Dietz, W. H. (1996) Television viewing as a cause of increasing obesity among children in the United States, 1986-1990. Archives of pediatrics & adolescent medicine. 150. 356-62. 10.1038/oby.2002.55..
4. Birch, L., Burns, A., Parker, L., Institute of Medicine (2011) Committee on Obesity Prevention Policies for Young Children, & ProQuest. Early childhood obesity prevention policies. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press.
5. Mayo Clinic (2019) Screen time and children: How to guide your child [online]. Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/childrens-health/in-depth/screen-time/art-20047952
6. Adelantado-Renau, M., Moliner-Urdiales, D., Cavero-Redondo, I., Beltran-Valls, M. R., Martínez-Vizcaíno, V., Álvarez-Bueno, C. (2019) Association Between Screen Media Use and Academic Performance Among Children and Adolescents: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis . JAMA Pediatr: 173(11): pp. 1058–1067. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1001/jamapediatrics.2019.3176
7. Vogel, L. (2019). Quality of kids' screen time matters as much as quantity. CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association Journal = Journal De L'Association Medicale Canadienne 191(25) E721.
8. World Health Organization. (2019). Guidelines on physical activity, sedentary behaviour and sleep for children under 5 years of age. World Health Organization [online] Available at: https://apps.who.int/iris/handle/10665/311664. License: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO
9. Lauricella, A., Wartella, E., and Rideout, V. (2015) Young children's screen time: The complex role of parent and child factors. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 36: pp. 11-17.
10. Roberts, D. (12th May 2020) Planning Enquiry Based Lessons. Macmillan Education International Curriculum. Webinar.