Children are spending more time surrounded by technology than ever before.
While this offers them all sorts of wonderful learning and enrichment opportunities, it also gives more access to video games, social media, advertisements, and more.
Safety measures against COVID made screen time a necessity for kids to interact with their teachers and classmates. With the uncertainty of the pandemic, a hybrid or full distance learning model may be a continuing reality for some time to come.
How does all this time in front of a screen impact our kids? More importantly, how can we help them develop a healthy relationship with technology and better appreciate non-virtual life?
What is screen time?
According to the World Health Organization, screen time includes activities like watching television, playing video games, or watching videos.
Screen time use for kids aged 8 to 18 has risen gradually since the late 1990s. Children in this age group today spend an average of over seven hours in front of screens for entertainment alone. That’s nearly as long as many parents spend at work!
Given the frequent releases of new gadgets and exciting developments in technology, this high exposure will likely only continue. Helping kids develop conscious use of screens is crucial.
How do we use screen time?
Screen time is, of course, not all bad. How many times have you pulled up a YouTube video to help you fix a leaky faucet or quickly check on an issue with your car?
Especially right now, kids are using their computers and devices to learn, maintain a relationship with teachers they miss, connect with family, and more. The internet offers them opportunities to explore their interests and learn about the wide world, and they can use Skype or FaceTime to talk to grandparents or friends when they’re not able to come to visit.
What are the risks of too much screen time?
While there are many benefits, screen time--especially in excessive volumes--does pose risks. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has a Screen Time vs. Lean Time campaign to support children spending more time in active play.
The length of time kids spend on screens nowadays has altered the way they interact with their peers, opening them up to cyberbullying. A recent Google survey found that cyberbullying was the top concern for teachers who responded. There are also concerns of children becoming addicted to loot boxes--special rewards in many video games such as Fortnite that give random items--or being exposed to inappropriate content online either by accident or intentionally hidden content.
Too much time in front of screens can also cause eye strain and headaches, long-term health effects from long sedentary periods, and sleep difficulty due to blue light tricking your brain into thinking it is sunlight. While adults are likely aware of these and take steps to mitigate them, children will require more guidance to ensure they get the quality sleep and activity they need to thrive.
Screen time and mindfulness
Mindfulness is, “the intentional and nonjudgmental conscious awareness of the present moment.” It’s now gaining traction, from self-improvement apps to workplace wellness clinics. Mindfulness has also been used by many as an effective tool in managing their anxiety and depression, and teaching children mindfulness--in this case around their device use--is a wonderful tool to give them early.
How are mindfulness and screen time connected? Far too often, kids mindlessly use screens. They fall into patterns of watching TV during breakfast, or playing a video game because there’s “nothing else to do.”
On the other hand, mindful screen time involves developing a conscious awareness of their use of time. As with any behavioral change, this will take time, patience with yourself and the child, and bearing in mind that you may backslide. This is a natural part of the process, and all progress is worth celebrating.
Tips and habits to ensure mindful screen time
- Introduce the concept. Talk about the “why”, about the importance of this. Involve kids in the process so that they can see this is a shared family effort. Building a somewhat flexible schedule can help with adherence and clarity.
- Set screen time goals: Discuss beforehand what they want to achieve during a gaming session, or stipulate beforehand that they can watch a couple of episodes of their favorite show while you prepare dinner. Set clear goals about screen time and how to use the screen.
- Offer engaging alternatives. The second you talk about less screen time, you’re sure to hear the “I’m bored!” or “there’s nothing to do” wails. This should be a family effort because the chances are that parents need mindful screen habits as well! Engage in other activities as a family, as this will bring you closer.
- Find a way to celebrate your successes! Maybe you can spend some of the time that would have otherwise been in front of the television at the park or in the backyard playing and exploring together. If everyone meets their screen time goals, maybe that’s a call for a pizza party. Find ways to make the changes fun.
Getting a Head Start
Mindful screen-time habits are important for children’s development and engagement in life, but they are hard to foster.
Here at Binge Battle, we know just how hard it is to change screen time habits for kids and adults. That’s why we’ve created an excellent tool to help, the Planournal. Stay on track, explore your behaviors, and engage in daily thought-provoking challenges. Track your screen time as a family and together...
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