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Published on March 31, 2021

How Much Screen Time Should Kids Have And Why?

How Much Screen Time Should Kids Have And Why?

The dreaded screen time debate can feel like a never-ending battle. Kids want more of it, but parents want them to have less. So much of our lives involve technology that it’s almost impossible to avoid. We now rely on it for learning and social interaction, not just for fun.

It can be hard to find the right balance or even know what “balanced” looks like. The negativity surrounding kids and screen time adds to the guilt and uncertainty. How much is too much? At what point is it harmful?

Maybe it’s time for some good news that could help set your mind at ease. New studies show that technology might not be as bad for your kids as initially thought, and it’s the quality—not the quantity—of screentime that really counts.

What Do We Know About the Effects of Screen Time on Kids?

Parents aren’t alone because even scientists are torn about this topic. It might sound like there’s solidarity on the topic, but that’s not the case.[1] Many psychologists disagree with the conclusions formed from the available studies.

Why? Research hasn’t been extensive enough, the results are conflicting, and there’s little proof that screentime is the actual cause of behavioral and mental problems.[2]

A Lack of Research

Technology is relatively new. There hasn’t been enough time to do long-term conclusive studies. Unfortunately, time isn’t the only issue. It’s hard to find parents that would allow a mandatory six hours of screentime a day or say, none at all, for an extended period.

There are other problems as well. Much of the research is correlational, cross-sectional, or based on self-report. Studies have relied on the parent’s and child’s observations and feelings, leading to a greater risk for biased and skewed data.[3]

Conflicting Results and New Information

How many times have you heard that screen time can disrupt a child’s sleep? Or that too much screentime can make your child moody or depressed? While based on previous studies and accepted as truth, researchers are now coming to other conclusions.

How much are a child’s mood and sleep actually affected?

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One recent study found that sleep disruption in children is minimal—on average, only 3 to 8 minutes less per hour of screen time.[4]. Some kids may be more sensitive than others, so know what your child can handle. Using a blue light blocker can help, along with cutting off screentime one hour before bed. Overall, it’s more beneficial to focus on a bedtime routine and a consistent wake-up time.

How about the effects on moodiness? According to a study, it would take over five hours of device-based screen time before caregivers or parents notice an increase in psychosocial functioning.[5]

Does It Cause Depression and Anxiety?

The link between screen time and a child’s or teen’s mental health is also being questioned. Studies have not produced consistent results and fail to show a causal relationship, leaving researchers to question the correlation.[6][7]

What came first, the chicken or the egg? Likewise, is an adolescent struggling with mental health issues because of too much screentime? Or is the child using more screentime because of mental health issues? Correlation doesn’t mean causation. Kids dealing with depression and anxiety might simply be more likely to over-use their phones.[8]

Why Quality Over Quantity Is the New Focus

Screen time is often lumped into one category, but researchers are finding that it’s not all equal. The subject goes deeper than a simple “good” or “bad.”

Think of it as food. Not all food affects the body the same way. Some things are highly beneficial, others just a little, and some are detrimental or even harmful.

Time has to be taken into account as well. Eating a few cookies one day is different than eating a few cookies multiple times a day, every day, for years. Short-term effects are not nearly as concerning as the long-term changes that can take place.[9]

So, what kind of screentime is the “healthier” choice? It’s broken down into two categories: active and passive.[10]

Active Screen Time

Interactive programs and games will engage the brain and cause the child to think. It can be video games, videos, chatting, active learning apps, or anything that encourages thought, creativity, and problem-solving skills.

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Passive Screen Time

This is the idle time when the child “vegges out” doing things like scrolling through social media and watching shows or movies. These things can still be enjoyed once in a while but need to be done in moderation. It’s this passive screentime that can negatively affect children.[11]

It’s Not Always Black and white

This makes it easy, right? Wrong. It is easier to make decisions based on whether screentime is active or passive, but it doesn’t end there. Sometimes, a game or video might look educational but offer little value.

Likewise, something might look like idle time but be highly educational. Navigating through this complex topic is impossible without considering quality, but it takes determination and time to dig deeper.[12]

The Surprising Benefits of Screen Time for Kids

Kids are surrounded by technology and are bound to interact with it, despite the negative attention it draws. Being aware of the positives can help you find balance. What are some ways kids benefit from active screen time?

Video games

Video games have a bad reputation and are often considered a waste of time, but they can fall into the active category. The benefits vary depending on the video game, but most are associated with the following:

  • Visual processing
  • Attention
  • Hand-eye coordination
  • Spatial processing
  • Problem-solving
  • Creativity
  • Self-direction
  • Social interaction
  • Discovery

Educational Programs

Some shows might be marketed as educational but fall short in reality. However, most strive to provide quality content for kids and help with the following:[13]

  • Literacy
  • Color, number, and letter recognition
  • Imagination
  • Character development
  • Exposure to places and cultures

Technology use can also help a child become tech-savvy—an invaluable skill for the future. Kids are better at adapting to new things. Growing up with technology gives them the chance to become familiar with it while learning self-regulation.

When Active Screen Time Isn’t Good Enough

Children under two need more than interactive games and videos. Their symbolic, memory, and attention skills are not mature enough to learn from digital media. They are unable to transfer what’s on the screen to real life. At this age, a child’s cognitive, language, motor, social, and emotional skills are developed through personal interactions and hands-on play.

This doesn’t mean young kids should never have screentime, but it should be minimal and used as a time to connect.[14][15]

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The Negative Impact of Screen Time

Of course, there needs to be a balance. While screen time might not be bad, there are still plenty of potential problems to be aware of. Often the negatives are listed as if they stand alone when they are usually symptoms of underlying issues.

What’s one of the biggest problems? Screentime takes away from real-life activities.

Obesity, moodiness, sleep-deprivation, and lack of concentration become issues when screentime replaces healthy habits and activities. It’s not the technology that’s dangerous but what we allow it to replace. Kids are less active, staying up too late, and distracted because of it. Adults are guilty of this, too.

However, parents shouldn’t throw out current advice regarding screentime. It’s too soon to know the long-term effects, but there’s wisdom in moderation. Kids should be encouraged to play, be active, and even be bored. Boredom is a precursor to creativity.

“We have to be flexible enough to evolve with the technology but choose how to use it right. Fire was a great discovery to cook our food, but we had to learn it could hurt and kill as well, ” said Michael Rich, director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Boston Children’s Hospital, associate professor of pediatrics at HMS, and associate professor of social and behavioral sciences at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.[16]

Children and teens can learn to self-regulate by paying attention to how they feel. Everyone can learn to “unplug” by taking inventory of their time, focusing on goals, and finding real-life adventures.

What to Do When You Think There Is an Addiction

Does your child get upset when you try to take away the tablet or phone? Does your child want to use it often and seem to prefer it? Don’t worry. That doesn’t mean there’s an addiction. It could be a matter of frustration.

Children, like adults, can have a hard time suddenly switching tasks. Interruptions can be upsetting, so let your child ease into it. Give a five or ten-minute “warning” that time is almost up. Talk to them, drawing them out of their “zone” to help ease the transition.

What if that doesn’t work? What if screentime starts to cause more significant problems?

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8 Signs of Screen Dependency Disorder

Naturally, addiction is a concern for parents as they watch their children stare mindlessly at a screen and become angry when it’s time to turn it off. If you think your child struggles with control, here’s what to look for, according to Neurohealth Associates:[17]

  • Preoccupation
  • Withdrawal
  • Increased tolerance
  • Failure to reduce or stop screentime
  • Loss of other interests
  • Continues despite negative consequences
  • Lying about use
  • Uses to escape adverse moods

Screen Dependency Disorder and Your Child’s Health

This disorder can negatively impact your child’s health, both short and long-term. What are some of the problems it can cause?

Short-Term Health Problems

  • insomnia
  • back pain
  • weight gain or loss
  • vision problems
  • headaches
  • anxiety
  • dishonesty
  • feelings of guilt and loneliness
  • aggression

Long-Term Health Problems

When addicted, a child’s brain will lose tissue in the frontal lobe, striatum, and insula over time. How does that specifically affect behavior and growth? This tissue loss can cause a child to struggle with:

  • Planning and organization
  • Suppressing socially unacceptable impulses
  • Developing compassion and empathy
  • Speech

7 Steps to Help Break the Screen Time Cycle

Real addiction is rare, but there will probably be a time when your child needs a detox.[18] You might decide there needs to be less screentime overall, or maybe everyone needs a break. How can you make this transition easier? After all, no one wants unnecessary drama.[19]

  1. Create a plan. Talk with your child(ren), discuss concerns, and get everyone’s feedback.
  2. Pick a start date. Set a future date, giving children time to accept the plan.
  3. Make a list of alternative things to do. Be prepared for the inevitable “I’m bored.” Bins of toys, games, crafts, and books can encourage play.
  4. Keep devices out of sight. There will be less temptation if they’re out of view.
  5. Play with your child. Some kids need a boost, and your involvement will make them want to play even more.
  6. Be a good role model. Kids will mimic your behavior, so limit your own screentime.
  7. Create new routines. Kids often use screentime out of habit. Find the times your child is most likely to use it, and help fill in that space with something else.

How to Find a Balance That’s Right for Your Family

Families are different, so what works for one won’t necessarily work for the other. Don’t feel like you have to base your guidelines around what others do. You know your kids better than anyone.

Here are a few tips for finding the right balance. Remember, you will probably need to make adjustments as your kids grow.

  • Be involved. Kids learn more when a parent or caregiver is actively engaging with them during screen time. It’s a great way to connect with your child. Plus, you’ll know what they’re watching and playing, giving you better insight and control.
  • Have tech-free zones and times. This might be while eating, before bed, or after school. Find specific times and places where screen time is not allowed. Choose what works best for your family’s schedule.
  • Avoid multi-tasking. Forcing the brain to do multiple things at once results in poor quality work. Encourage kids to focus on one thing at a time.
  • Teach awareness and self-regulation. Teach your child the difference between active and passive screentime. Help them become aware of their feelings while playing games or watching programs.
  • Give them some control. It seems counter-intuitive, but this will teach them responsibility and diminish the feeling that screen time is “special.” If it’s used as a reward or treat, kids will only want it more.[20] Normalize screentime, and kids will get bored with it after a while.
  • Get expert advice. Many helpful resources can help you set up a plan for your family.[21] Know the current policies and recommendations stated by pediatricians and psychologists.[22]

Remember, no one knows your child as you do. Balance and control will come naturally if you set a good example, stay involved, and find alternative family activities.

Featured photo credit: Patricia Prudente via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Sage Journals: Do Policy Statements on Media Effects Faithfully Represent the Science?
[2] OECDiLibrary: Impacts of technology use on children, exploring literature on the brain, cognition, and well-being
[3] American Psychological Association: What Do We Really Know About Kids And Screens?
[4] Journal of Pediatrics: Digital Screentime and Pediatric Sleep
[5] Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry: How Much Is Too Much? Examining the Relationship Between Digital Screen Engagement and Psychosocial Functioning in a Confirmatory Cohort Study
[6] Sage Journals: Young Adolescents’ Digital Technology Use, and Mental Health Symptoms: Little Evidence of Longitudinal or Daily Linkages
[7] Nature: Human Behavior: The Association Between Adolescent Well-being and Digital Technology Use
[8] Slate: What Does A Screen Do?
[9] NCBI: Children Wired- For Better And For Worse
[10] Sage Journals: Active versus Passive Screentime for Young Children
[11] Sustain Health Magazine: What is the Difference Between Active and Passive Screentime for Teens?
[12] Biomed Central: Type of screen time moderates effects on outcomes in 4013 children
[13] Translational Journal of the American College of Sports Medicine: The Ubiquity of the Screen: An Overview of the Risks and Benefits of Screen Time in Our Modern World
[14] Pediatrics: Media And Young Minds
[15] SRCD: Memory Constraints on Infant Learning From Picture Books, Television, and Touchscreens
[16] Harvard Medical School: Screentime and the Brain
[17] NHAHealth: Screen Dependency Disorder: The Effects of ‘Screen Time’ Addiction
[18] Common Sense Media: What Parents Need to Know About Technology Addiction
[19] Simply Snapping: The 7 Step Method to Save Your Kids from Screen Addiction
[20] American Psychological Association: What do we really know about kids and screens?
[21] HealthyChildren.org: Family Media Plan
[22] American Academic of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry: Screen Time and Children

More by this author

Adrienne Koziol

Adrienne is an educator, blogger, and mother of 9. She loves to help people reach their goals in relationships, health, and life.

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Published on July 22, 2021

20 Healthy and Tasty Family Meals Ideas to Try This Week

20 Healthy and Tasty Family Meals Ideas to Try This Week

It’s 5 p.m., and you’re exhausted. The kids are hungry, but no one knows what they want to eat for dinner. With very little energy, you force yourself into the kitchen and look through every cabinet, hoping for a spark of inspiration. Eventually, you toss a few ingredients together and hope for the best. It won’t win any prizes and falls short of what you consider “healthy,” but it fills everyone’s stomachs.

Feeding a family can be stressful, even tiresome. It’s hard to find the energy and creativity needed to cook healthy but simple family meals. It’s easy to fall into the “anything goes” mentality. When you’ve got a busy lifestyle, meals become more about survival and less about nutrition.

Here are 20 quick and healthy—but tasty—recipes followed by tips on making these family meals more nutritious. These recipes can help you have a healthy family meal on the table in an hour or less. Remember, swap ingredients out if someone in your family has dietary restrictions or if you avoid certain foods.

1. Mini Meatloaves With Green Beans and Potatoes

    These miniature meatloaves come together quickly and cook faster, too. You can have a family favorite on the table, paired with seasoned potatoes and fresh green beans, in just 40 minutes.

    Get the recipe here.

    2. One-Pan Chicken Parmesan Pasta

      This classic will taste like you spent hours cooking, but the preparation and clean-up couldn’t be quicker. One-pot cooking makes this dish practical, while fresh basil, parmesan, and garlic add a special touch.

      To try this recipe, go here.

      3. Sheet-Pan Chicken Fajitas

        Skip the restaurant and make fajitas at home. The ingredients go on one sheet pan, meaning you won’t spend all night cleaning. Zesty chicken, bell peppers, and warm tortillas can be on the table in 40 minutes. Add sour cream, salsa, guacamole, lettuce, diced tomato, and any other favorite toppings.

        Check out the recipe here.

        4. Philly Cheese Steak Stuffed Peppers

          Lose the carbs but keep the cheesesteak flavors with this quick family meal. Kids will love the pepper “bowls,” and you’ll love giving them a meal full of veggies and protein to keep them healthy.

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          Try it tonight. Get the recipe here.

          5. Chipotle Chicken Quinoa Burrito Bowl

            This veggie-packed meal adds an extra boost by using the superfood quinoa instead of rice. Flavorful yet simple, this meal makes an excellent packable lunch or dinner for your whole family.

            Find the recipe here.

            6. Spinach and Chicken Skillet With Lemon and Parmesan

              The complex flavors of lemon and parmesan come together nicely in this gourmet-like dish, but you don’t have to exert the effort or spend as much as a gourmet meal.

              Get the recipe for this dish here.

              7. Oven-Fried Fish and Chips

                Fish and chips can also sometimes be healthy as evident in this oven-fried version. You won’t miss the calories with this favorite family meal.

                You can find the recipe here.

                8. Pineapple-Teriyaki Chicken

                  Tangy pineapple and sweet teriyaki will have everyone coming back for seconds. Frozen vegetables make this simple family dish even easier to make and enjoy.

                  Find the recipe here.

                  9. Mozzarella, Basil, and Zucchini Frittata

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                    This egg dish is usually served for breakfast, but a frittata can make a fantastic dinner, too. High in protein, packed with zucchini, and delicious, there’s no reason to wait until morning.

                    Try it tonight. Get the recipe here.

                    10. Chicken and Sweet Potato Grill Packets

                      Skip the pans and throw everything into foil with this fun family recipe. Kids will love loading ingredients into their pack, and you’ll love its versatility and simplicity.

                      The recipe for this meal can be found here.

                      11. Chicken and Spanish “Rice”

                        Cauliflower takes the place of rice in this low-carb family meal, but it’s so flavorful and filling, no one will miss it.

                        Find the recipe here.

                        12. Honey Chicken Stir Fry

                          This honey chicken stir fry is the healthier version of a restaurant favorite that can be served up quicker than you can order it.

                          Find the recipe here.

                          13. Chicken Skewers With Tzatziki

                            Greek chicken and tzatziki sauce will have you yearning for the Mediterranean, but you can make this recipe at home for your family to enjoy.

                            This easy recipe can be found here.

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                            14. Healthy Walking Tacos

                              Traditional walking tacos are a party favorite, but they’re not usually healthy. However, this recipe keeps it fun while making it more nutritious.

                              Find out how to make it here.

                              15. Slow-Cooker Chicken Noodle Soup

                                This classic comfort meal can be ready when you walk in the door. All you have to do is add noodles, and it’s ready to serve.

                                The recipe can be found here.

                                16. Cheesy Chicken and Rice Casserole

                                  This usually takes a little over an hour, but the preparation time is only 30 minutes. You’ll love how easy it is, and the cheesy rice is sure to please.

                                  Find the recipe here.

                                  17. Crockpot Rotisserie-Style Chicken

                                    Skip the checkout line and have a rotisserie-style chicken ready at home. A staple in many quick meals, you might find this family meal recipe among your most-used.

                                    Get the recipe for this flavorful chicken here.

                                    18. Santa Monica Street Tacos

                                      Named after a simple taco found on the streets of California, you’ll be surprised that something with only a few ingredients can be so flavorful. Your kids will surely enjoy them.

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                                      Find the recipe here.

                                      19. Pizza Pasta Salad

                                        Enjoy the flavor of pizza without the hassle of making a crust. Use a fun pasta shape to make this even more appealing to your family, especially kids.

                                        Try it tonight. Get the recipe here.

                                        20. Slow-Cooker Lasagna Soup

                                          Everyone loves lasagna, but it can be time-consuming and messy to make. However, this soup version has the taste you want but with the ease of a crockpot.

                                          Get the recipe here.

                                          Bonus: 3 Simple Ways to Make Meals Healthier

                                          Eating healthy doesn’t have to take a lot of money, time, or thought. Any improvements are a big step in the right direction.

                                          Here are three easy ways you can make meals healthier for your family.

                                          1. Lose the Sugar

                                          Are you looking to improve your health? Cut processed sugars from your diet—the more, the better, and that includes artificial sweeteners.[1] Why? Studies show that sugar increases the risks for weight gain, heart disease, acne, type-2 diabetes, depression, cancer, fatty liver disease, cellular aging, and low energy levels.[2]

                                          2. Avoid Highly Processed Foods

                                          Many processed foods are fine to eat. Even fresh fruit and vegetables go through some processing to stay fresh longer. However, highly processed foods have added salt, sweeteners, saturated fats, preservatives, and artificial colors. These types of food have been linked to heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure.[3]

                                          3. Replace Simple Carbs for Complex Carbs

                                          Lowering daily carbs can do wonders for your health. Studies show that low-carb diets lead to lower insulin levels, lower bad cholesterol levels, visceral fat loss, weight loss, reduced appetite, and can be therapeutic for many brain disorders.[4]

                                          When eating carbs, choose complex carbs over simple carbs. Simple carbs, such as white flour, rice, and degermed cornmeal, lack nutrients and spike blood sugar levels. Complex carbs, such as sweet potato, brown rice, and oats, are usually more nutritious and aren’t digested as quickly, giving more sustained energy and less of an insulin spike.[5]

                                          Enjoy Family Meals With Less Stress!

                                          Dinner can be enjoyable again now that you’re armed with simple and nutritious recipes for your family. These healthy and tasty family meal recipes can help you feel even better about what you serve. Best of all, you’ll have the extra time and energy you saved from cooking and spend more time with your family.

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                                          More Healthy Eating Tips

                                          Featured photo credit: Jimmy Dean via unsplash.com

                                          Reference

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