It’s tempting for a child who is idle to spend hours playing video games, or for a teen not to come for air for hours browsing social media apps.
Some kids spend so much time with screens they lose sleep, fall into unhealthy eating habits and experience worse physical health. It’s important as parents to manage and monitor kids’ screen time and content, advises Dr. Reuben Battley, an adolescent medicine specialist with Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Health.
“If they’re stuck at home, kids are more likely to spend too much screen time,” Dr. Battley said.
The risks for children are great: obesity, problems sleeping, behavioral problems and they’re more likely to struggle in school. Studies have shown they may resort to violence to solve problems if they’re exposed to violent video games, videos or music.
The good news is parents can make a difference. These five tips will help.
Adopt healthy habits yourself.
“Kids watch everything we do, and I do mean everything,” Dr. Battley says.
You should model healthy habits for your kids. Don’t lose yourself in your mobile device, don’t allow cell phones at the dinner table and agree as a family to turn off screens after a certain hour.
Flip the script.
Rather than making screen time limits the subject of your conversations, focus on the time they spend doing other things.
For example, require kids to spend at least one hour per day of physical play or exercise, or schedule time for reading. Even playing board games as a family is a good way to reduce screen time. “Kids who are engaged in a well-balanced routine are less likely to fall into bad screen habits,” Dr. Battley says.
Monitor what’s on their screens.
Technology opens a world of content to kids, much of it age-inappropriate. It’s up to parents to monitor and curate content and social media access.
Discuss and explain your expectations when it comes to content. Use features built into the technology such as browsing history to follow-up. “You don’t need to be hovering like a helicopter parent, but follow-up is important,” he says.
Make sleep a priority.
Kids need at least 8 to 10 hours of sleep every night, and very young kids need even more than that, Dr. Battley says.
A great way to ensure kids get enough sleep is to make sure they’re physically active during the day. “Burning energy and staying active during the day leads to better sleep at night,” Dr. Battley says.
Sleep hygiene is important as well. Establish and stick to consistent bedtimes, and shut off all screens at least an hour before bedtime.
Spend family time together.
An unintended consequence of the stay-at-home order is parents working from home are spending more time with their kids. Families who make the most of it by planning fun activities together are loving life.
“Bike rides or nature walks together promote physical health, and board games challenge kids mentally while bringing the family closer,” Dr. Battley says. “Make the most of the time you have.”