■ Metro Service
Families spend more time staring at screens than ever before. Thanks to smartphones, tablets, laptops, televisions, and video games, the average person is exposed to various media throughout a typical day. It can be easy to get swept away and spend much more time staring at screens than is healthy.
Screen time can adversely affect one’s ability to sleep and eat and may make people less likely to engage in physical activity. Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles have found that children’s social skills may be declining as they have less time for face-to-face interaction and reduced inability to read emotional facial cues due to increased digital media use.
In 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics released new policy recommendations on screen time for children. Children younger than 18 months should avoid screen media except for video chatting. Children between the ages of two and five should limit screen use to one hour per day with high-quality content. Children ages six and older should have consistent limits placed on the time they spend using media so that it doesn’t impact behaviors essential to their overall health. This gives caregivers a wide berth in determining just how much media is right for their families.
Because media is ubiquitous, families must weigh the pros and cons of screen time in developing media plans that work for their unique situations. A healthy media diet” includes smart choices about what media to engage with. Here’s how to get started.
• Determine when screen time seems most disruptive or negatively impactive to the family. This may include during dinnertime or when the family would normally socialize. Make those moments screen-free times.
• Encourage creative pursuits when consuming media. These can include making videos or learning to code video games rather than just watching videos or playing games.
• Make sure to keep bedtime tech-free so that screen time does not interfere with sleep or keeps children (and adults) from getting the quality sleep they need. Many experts recommend avoiding screens at least an hour before retiring.
• Encourage electronic limits and curfews so that kids and adults can get creative with their free time instead of simply turning to technology. Have plenty of other screen-free options available, such as books, newspapers, board games, and craft items.
• Modify guidelines as necessary for the family. This way no one is pigeonholed by strict rules. For example, screen time may be increased if a child is home sick from school or if someone can use some distraction while on a long car ride.
Media use is pervasive as technology continues to increase in everyone’s lives. Parents can establish family limits on screen time to promote stronger relationships and improve the overall health of their families.