Why Screen Moderation Matters

By Caitlin Bootsma

Many young children may be experiencing an increase in screen time over the past few months due to the pandemic. However, with young children, this could be hindering their brain development. A recent study demonstrated that 3-5 year old children who consumed more than one hour per day of screen time (without the involvement of a parent) had less development in their brain's white matter. This area of the brain is responsible for literacy skills, language development and cognitive skills.

Other studies have linked too much screen time to attention issues, behavioral problems, delays in language and decreased executive functioning. Anecdotally, children who are given screens every time they are waiting (in the grocery lines, in the doctor's office, during mealtimes, in the car, etc.) may not be developing a habit of patience. Kids who are looking at screens are not looking at their family members and developing fundamental relationship skills.

Yet, talking about limiting screen time is one thing, while actually following through with it is another. Particularly when parents have a lot on their plate and everyone is spending a lot more time at home due to the pandemic. Here are a few reasonable things you could start implementing right away to limit screen time:

  1. Decide on set times for screens and stick to it (e.g., an hour either before dinner or after homework, shows while the baby naps, an hour on Saturday mornings, etc.)
  2. Adhere to screen limits (American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under 2 do not have access to screens, and that other children have 2 hours or less per day)
  3. Keep screens at home and in shared areas on the house, including smart phones
  4. Prepare for waiting times in car lines, medical offices, siblings' extracurriculars etc., with other materials like coloring books, books to read, toys and snacks
  5. Establish a weekly "no screen day" (Sunday is a great day to consider), where everyone (parents included) detoxes from screens
  6. Weather permitting, make outdoor time equal to, or greater than, screen time
  7. Model moderation-show by example with intentionally choosing time each day to put away your own cell phone (or other devices) and focus on family interaction or other activities (such as reading or going for a walk)

While keeping these considerations in mind, it's important to acknowledge that we are living in extraordinary times. We all may end up utilizing screens and technology a little more than usual, knowing that hopefully one day soon we can move back to healthier screen habits.

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