Why you should focus on HOW your kids use digital media instead of how long
Is limiting your child's screen time use to an hour a day really going to make a positive difference?
You spend hours researching about the screen time limits by age. And you likely spend longer persuading (or outright negotiating) your kids to not use their computers or phones as often in the hope of not stunting his development. In the face of the ever-present argument of how much screen time is enough for your kids, the Canadian Paediatric Association (CPA) has given us another way to look at this debate. Instead of worrying about how much time your child spends glued to a device, think about how digital media is being used.
A change of focus from screen time limits by age
Parents, it wasn’t that long ago when life was a lot simpler. Playing with your kids looked like going to the park or visiting a museum. Mealtimes were a great opportunity to catch up around the dinner table.
Now, it’s hard to imagine life without interacting through and with technology. There is so much content on the web that it’s easy to get lost down a rabbit hole of discovery, whether that’s for education or pleasure. No wonder it’s a daily struggle to limit the amount of time your little one spends looking at a digital screen!
According to guidelines by the American Association of Paediatrics on screen time limits by age, children aged two to five should be restricted to one hour of screen time daily. For older children and teens, there is no recommended restriction time.
But in the midst monitoring your children’s phone use and browser history, have you wondered just how bad extended screen time exposure is?
The CPA’s new guidelines on the screen time limits by age group focus on when and how digital media are used, not just the duration.
Dr Michelle Ponti, who is the chair of the CPS Digital Health Task Force and lead author on the revised guidelines, explained,”We really wanted to highlight that content, context and kids’ individual traits are as important as specific screen time limits.”
The benefits and risks of using digital media
The new statement was informed through analysing research that looked at the associations between screen time and physical and mental health over the past 6 years.
Mummy, consider these pros and cons of screen time to help you make better decisions around setting screen time limits by age.
Some of the benefits include:
- Enabling a more fulfilling education
- Enhancing knowledge
- Computer games can nurture your child’s emotional and social development (especially team-based games)
- Recreational screen time is associated with a lowered risk of depression
And some of the key risks with screen time to be aware of are:
- Increased exposure to age-inappropriate material
- Children from economically disadvantaged backgrounds have less access to higher quality digital media, affecting overall education and development
- Splitting time between two separate devices can be detrimental to learning
- Kids are more likely to mindlessly snack while using devices
- Screen time can distract kids from other important activities, like exercise
- Having or using devices in the bedroom before sleep time can disrupt quality sleep
It’s not all doom and gloom, mummy! By all means, set restrictions on how long your child is using his device. But these guidelines provide information on when your kids can play on their phones. The key focus is on building a healthy relationship towards using technology. Constant nagging will upset your child and also get yourself worked up! Instead, try implementing a different approach by following these four simple M’s as recommended by the CPA.
Definitely manage screen use and monitor signs of problematic usage or behaviour. But encourage meaningful usage and be a healthy role model so your child can see how it’s done.
Let’s look at how you can implement some of these tips.
4 ways to nurture a healthy attitude towards screen time in your child
It can be easy to be overwhelmed by this unexpected challenge, mummy. Your child is innately curious, even if he doesn’t express it! Turning to the internet is a common reflex everyone does. Think about the last time you Googled parenting advice!
Instead of stressing over screen time limits by age, follow these practical tips to instil confidence in your child while raising awareness of harmful content. Then watch your child become independent and sensibly use his device!
1. Manage screen use
To minimise exposure to inappropriate content, there is a lot you can do behind the scenes, mummy. Or more precisely, you can do it before your child receives his device for the first time. It’s useful to learn about parental controls and privacy settings so you can automatically filter age-inappropriate content from popping up or being accessed.
Then you can help make a plan which details how long your child intends to use the device, as well as the function for using it at that time. Encourage your little one to be honest, especially around recreational time. You can then talk about healthier alternatives if there’s too much game time scheduled in. This also gives your child a sense of personal responsibility and builds trust, since you’re giving him some control over his own timetable.
Remember to talk proactively about acceptable and unacceptable behaviour while online. This helps your children recognise what cyberbullying is, while also minimising the likelihood of participating in toxic behaviours.
Consider asking for your kids’ social media accounts and passwords. Assure them you won’t be stalking them and watching their every like and post like a hawk, but it’s a last-resort measure if there are emergencies, or if there is bad behaviour. Using social media comes with responsibility and if your children don’t behave responsibly, they will be punished accordingly.
2. Encourage meaningful screen use
Having a routine for children is an absolute must. Screen time should never get in the way of disrupting this routine, including hygiene activities, sleep, or physical activity.
Encourage your child to prioritise engaging with digital content that is educational or social, over passive and unsocial media. Doing so nurtures your child’s social and emotional development and prevents him from becoming socially isolated.
Don’t be afraid to also get stuck in! If your child loves playing a certain game that has a multiplayer capacity, offer to join in. You might get whooped but it can serve as fun bonding time and you’ll learn more about your child in the process! And who knows, maybe you’ll beat them at their own game someday!
3. Be a good role model
Practise what you preach, as the saying goes. Your children constantly observe and make deductions about what’s acceptable or not based off your behaviour, whether you realise it or not. It can crop up when you try to discipline him as he will reply, “why do I have to stop? You get to play on your phone whenever you want!”
Parents are seen to be responsible and able to make sensible choices. As a yardstick to make sure your behaviour is in line with what you teach your children, review your own media habits and time for physical activity. Do you use your phone during meal times? Are there any screens on when not specifically in use, such as the TV left blaring in the background while you’re trying to sleep? Make adjustments to your own screen time behaviours so it doesn’t become a case of “do what I say and not what I do”. You’ll also notice more positive wellbeing as a result!
4. Continue to monitor unusual screen use
While you’re not aiming to become a helicopter parent, it is still important to monitor your child’s screen time use. Be cautious of any unusual behaviours or activity as these can be a signal for deeper underlying issues.
For example, your child complaining about being bored when not using technology is a sign of being overreliant on screen time for meaningful stimulation. Also be wary if there are strong adversarial reactions when you limit screen time use. And as noted earlier, it could be cause for concern if your child prefers playing on his phone or computer over socialising face-to-face, or enjoying physical activities.
Your child is always developing and can throw temper tantrums, so the above behaviour is expected and normal. However, it could become a larger concern if it happens consistently over a longer period of time.
You can do it, mummy! With these tips, you can help your child become more responsible over his screen time usage while using technology to augment your child’s development into a smart, sociable, and superb person!
Sources: Canadian Paediatric Society