Screen-Free Days For Children Worth A Shot To Curb This Problem

Preschoolers spending too much time on computer

If your young child spends a lot of time on a computer or watching TV, they may not be spending enough time on more important or age-appropriate activities.

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The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children younger than 2 get no screen time, while older children should get a maximum of two hours a day.

But according to the latest University of Michigan Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health, many preschoolers are getting too much screen time. In a survey of 560 parents of children ages 1 to 5, 26 percent allowed their child three hours or more of entertainment screen time a day. Among these parents, 35 percent said they have not considered limiting total screen time each day, while 24 percent said they have not set screen-free times for the whole family. Nineteen percent said they have not set screen-free days for their children.

"When you get to three or four hours each day, that screen time crowds out other important activities that babies and young kids should be engaging in: looking at books, going for walks or playing outside," said Dr. Matthew Davis, director of the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health.

However, only 12 percent of parents of children younger than 2 felt that no entertainment screen time was reasonable, versus 88 percent of parents of children ages 2 to 5 who felt that two hours or less was reasonable.

Davis also acknowledged that it is increasingly difficult to limit young children’s entertainment screen time due to rapid changes in the media landscape. He suggested that parents place restrictions on where media devices can be used, rather than imposing time limits.

“The most common approaches to limiting screen time have more to do with location than counting minutes,” he said. “That makes sense. It's easier to say no smartphones at the table than to be watching the clock.”

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Restrict media devices from bedrooms and family meals

The AAP recommends that parents keep media devices (TVs, computers) out of their children’s bedrooms. According to the survey, 53 percent of parents restricted their children’s use of devices in the bedroom or during family meals, and 28 percent placed limits on both location and time. Thirteen percent of parents, however, imposed no such restrictions.

Set screen-free days

Another option is to restrict screen time during the week, limiting media use to only a couple of weekdays or just weekends.

Replace screen-time with recreational or educational activities

Parents may want to consider replacing weekly screen time-time with educational or recreational activities such as going for walks, reading, or other learning exercises.

While limiting screen time may be difficult, it may also help young children sleep better. A recent study conducted by researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital for Children and the Harvard School of Public Health found that the more time infants and young children spend watching TV, the less time they spend sleeping. Each hour increase of TV viewing led to seven fewer minutes of sleep.

[Photo credit: Ben McLeod / Flickr]

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