With summer in full swing, and the pandemic still influencing parents work arrangements and social activities, we find ourselves asking the familiar question “How much screen time at home is adequate for my child?” Children’s music studio owners and teachers often get this question from their parents with the added caveat, does virtual educational time count as screen time?
To better answer this question, lets first understand what “screen time” actually means. Medline Plus defines screen time as a term for sedentary activities performed in front of a screen, such as watching TV, working on a computer, or playing video games. Note that the operative word here is sedentary, meaning children are being inactive physically while sitting down. Keyboard, mouse, remote, or game controller use are not considered physical activity in this definition.
So then, how much screen time should be allowed to children per day? For years, The American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommended no screen time for children under the age of 2 years, and no more than two hours per day for children and teenagers. But recently, the AAP have adjusted their guidelines to acknowledge the role that technology plays in our daily lives, as well as the new reality of Covid-19. So rather than provide definitive recommendations on time children should be allowed on screens, the new guidelines emphasize the active role parents play in allowing screen time in moderation, and how to navigate the balance.
With the onslaught of Covid-19, parents are transitioning into work from home (and back again) while trying to figure out childcare responsibilities. Similarly, schools are trying to juggle social distancing and remote learning. As a result, a good portion of childrens education has transitioned to online and virtual delivery. Understanding this necessity and its additional challenges, the AAP and other health care organizations have offered parents some flexibility and more general guidelines for managing screen time for children at home:
- Create household rules for screen time, and stick to them – Families should establish a clear understanding about what is allowed for screen time, what areas of the house are considered technology free zones, and what times of day are to be technology free. As a parent, show a good example by sticking to your own rules, while explaining to children the necessity that work sometimes creates for technology use.
- Seek out interactive options that engage children – Rather than those that simply ask them to swipe a screen or press buttons, many virtual educational opportunities exist that have children up from their seats, moving, dancing and singing.
- Take an active role in what your child is doing on screens – Sit down with your child and review what they are currently doing online, using it as an opportunity to have discussions about what is acceptable in both the household and society as a whole. It’s also a good idea to supervise while your child is engaged in screen time, even if it is only an occasional glimpse over their shoulder.
- Establish a healthy and balanced “Play Diet” for kids – Know and explain the difference between physical, social, creative, and unstructured play. A healthy play diet consists of a balance of these activities, and parents should learn how to expect, promote, and maintain it during long periods inside at home. Again, this requires attention and involvement from the parent, but once a balance is established, children will begin to manage it on their own.
Parents understand the negative risks that too much sedentary screen time can have on their children, including obesity, loss of social skills, irregular sleep patterns, and behavioral problems. With the transition of home life that so many families are experiencing through the Covid-19 crises, parents are taxed with how to deal with it responsibly in this new reality. While the official time limits for screen time have been loosened by health care professionals during this time, parents can follow a few guidelines to ensure that their children can continue to develop in a healthy and balanced environment.