In the age of Cocomelon, Paw Patrol, and the ever popular Baby Shark, avoiding the use of screen time in parenting has become near impossible. Covid-19 has led to an increase in screen usage as children are spending more time at home due to school and daycare closures. Unfortunately, COVID-19 is not going anywhere and the increased screen time could have negative impacts on children’s mental health. Understanding mental health impacts, setting appropriate limits, and providing alternative activities will help parents provide positive environments where their children can flourish.
So what are the negative impacts of too much screen time and how much is “too much”? The American Academy of Pediatrics provides the following recommendations; children under the age of 18 months should have no screen time, 18 months to 5-year-old should have no more than 1 hour per day of quality programming, and children six years and older should continue to have minimal screen time with alternative activities encouraged by parents. Screen time beyond the recommended one hour has been associated with emotional instability, decreased attention span, difficulty making friends, and decreased self-control. As every parent knows though, cutting down on screen time is easier said than done. So here are some creative ideas to help you on your journey of making healthier screen time choices.
• Set a timer: Setting a timer for screen time helps adults and children maintain boundaries and create clear expectations.
• Watch together: If you cannot avoid screen time, then actively participate in the screen time with your child. Take time to ask questions, make observations, and get in some extra cuddles.
• Buffer with “green time”: Green time, or time spent in nature, not only gets children away from screens, but has been shown to counteract negative mental health impacts of screen time.
• Be strategic about timing: If you are not able to always limit screen time, be strategic about when you allow screens. Try to avoid screen use at meal times, during family time, and no screens one hour prior to bedtime.
• Quality matters: Try to avoid allowing children to scroll through YouTube and instead offer programs or games that encourage learning and social development.
• Provide alternatives: Be prepared to offer screen time alternatives. Consider making a list of activities children can choose from when they crave entertainment. Swap the screens for activities like coloring, puzzles, or Legos. Having readily available choices can prevent tantrums and more stress free environment.
Parenting is hard and the temptation to turn to screen time as a tool can often be overwhelming. However, through moderation, wise choices, and a little bit of creativity, we can create healthy screen time habits for children.
By Madison Medley, LMSW – Mental Health Specialist