In the not too distant past, parents only had to worry about one screen – the TV. Fast forward to today and there is a countless array of different screens children have access to, so much so that excessive use of screen time has now been declared a national health crisis in some parts of the world.
Screen time refers to the amount of time spent watching TV, including videos and DVDs, playing computer games and using tablets and computers for other purposes, as well as using phones for texting and social networking.
A recent study from Common Sense Media’s 2013 study, Zero to Eight: Children’s Media Use in America, confirms that children are spending far more time glued to a screen than they spend with their parents or in the classroom. Children eight years and under spend around two hours a day with some sort of screen (TV, tablet, smart phone, or video game). Children aged eight to 18 spend, on average, close to 45 hours per week watching TV, playing video games, surfing the net, instant messaging, and listening to music online.
Part of the problem
There are now numerous studies linking negative outcomes to extended screen time, including poor cognitive performance, anti-social behaviour, disturbed sleep patterns and childhood obesity. The New England Journal of Medicine notes in a 2008 study that one in four pre-schoolers is obese and a 2014 study found a disturbing trend of “weight fate,” in which a third of children who were overweight in kindergarten were obese by 8th grade. Experts say it’s because children aren’t getting enough exercise and eating a healthy diet. Too much screen time, whether it be in front of a TV, computer, a video game or mobile phone, is part of the problem.
Healthy screen time
So how much screen time is recommended? Not very much is the simple answer. Paediatric doctors recommend children under the age of two should steer clear of the screen altogether – so forget about handing your toddler your mobile phone or tablet to entertain them. Children aged 2-7 years should have no more than an hour a day and children aged 8-18 years should have no more than two hours. Developing healthy screen time habits while they’re young will help children and teenagers make better choices about how to use their free time when they’re older.
For tips on managing screen time and other dilemmas, take a look at these websites. www.commonsensemedia.org; www.parents-choice.org.
Six ways to manage screen time
• Lead by example. Limit your own screen time and make sure your kids are not constantly watching mum and dad look at the screen as they will think that it is acceptable and normal behaviour. Wait until kids are at school or are tucked in bed.
• Offer variety. Make sure you have a range of activities and objects to entertain and stimulate your children so they don’t look to the screen so much. A child’s brain develops rapidly during their first years, and young children learn best by interacting with people, not screens, as confirmed by The American Academy of Paediatrics.
• Be choosy about what your younger children watch or play on the computer, and take an interest in what your older children are doing online. Remember that children younger than two should have no screen time.
• Keep TVs and computers in family spaces and out of children’s bedrooms. It’s much easier to exercise control when your child is within view. That means DVD games, the TV and computers should be left in a common area where you can keep an eye on things.
• Turn off the screen time before school and at dinner time. Children have to socialise and have real face-to-face conversations with family and others to develop their social skills
• Follow the recommended daily allowance. Children have to live a healthy life and observe the world around them.
Five fun things to do
Go to Gondolania: An ice-rink, go-karting and more. Villaggio Mall, Al Wabb Street, nr Aspire Zone.
Aspire Zone: An area with stunning sports and recreational facilities. Al Wabb Street (4447 6786).
IAID: An academy for dance, music and arts. Hip-hop or modern jazz music dancing for children available. D-Ring Road www.iaidonline.com.
Café Ceramique: You can paint various ceramic items. The Mall, Old Airport (4467 1100).
Fun Ville: Good for younger children. Rides, games and more. Ezdan Mall, Al Gharaffa (4433 2381).