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Published on March 31, 2021

How Much Screen Time Should Kids Have And Why?

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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

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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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Last Updated on October 7, 2021

Why Spending Time With Your Family Is Important (And How To Do So)

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Why Spending Time With Your Family Is Important (And How To Do So)

In today’s chaotic world, having family time isn’t always easy. It can get pretty hard to coordinate schedules, especially if the family is large. Life demands that we work, attend school, nurture friendships, hobbies, etc. All of those things are extremely time-consuming and important—but so is spending time with your family.

Why is family time so important? Because we all need love and support, and a good, strong family can provide that regularly. For children, spending time with their family helps shape them into good, responsible adults, improve their mental health, and develop strong core values.

There are many positive effects of spending time with your family. My family and I, for instance (and this includes grandchildren as well), meet every Tuesday night for dinner and games. My older son and I take turns cooking. This gives all of us a chance to try some new recipes. After dinner, we play games. And without fail, they inspire competitiveness and laughter. As family night has evolved, the grandkids have invited their friends over as well, creating the need for more chairs but also expanding our circle of fun.

Aside from the obvious fun and games, there are other reasons why spending time with your family is paramount. In this article, I will provide you with multiple reasons why spending time with your family regularly is a win-win. And then, I will lay out some ways on how to do it.

Let’s get started, shall we?

Why Spending Time With Your Family Is Important

Here are six reasons why it’s important to spend time with your family.

1. Provides the Opportunity to Bond

When you spend time together as a family—talking about your day, your highs, your lows—it fosters communication. As parents, it gives you the chance to listen to your children, to hear them out, to learn about what’s going on in their world. It also provides you with the opportunity to use life situations as teaching moments.

Before our Tuesday night dinner/game nights, my family used to see each other pretty regularly but not consistently, especially the grandkids. Our family night changed all that. Now, it’s guaranteed that the grandchildren, along with some of their friends, will be there. Not only do I get to find out what’s been happening in their lives, but they also get to know us better. It’s creating memories they can treasure forever, as well as modeling the Get-Together tradition for when they eventually have families of their own.

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“Spending time partaking in everyday family leisure activities has been associated with greater emotional bonding within families.”[1]

2. Teaches the Value of Family

Taking the time to be with your family lets your children know they are valued—that spending time together is a priority. I know that in today’s world, both parents are busy as both usually working. What better way to let your children know they are loved than by carving out time each week to spend with them?

According to Marilyn Price-Mitchell, Ph.D., “words like honesty, trust, fairness, respect, responsibility, and courage are core to centuries of religious, philosophical, and family beliefs. Use them and others to express and reinforce your family values. Teach children the behaviors that flow from these principles. Use quotes to ignite meaningful dinner conversations and encourage kids to talk about these values.”[2]

3. Enhances Mental Well-Being

Spending that quality time together gives your children a safe platform in which to express themselves, ask questions about things that are bothering them, or talk about their day and things they’ve learned. I know that my 9-year old granddaughter can’t wait until it’s her turn to talk about her day. She usually goes on and on and has to be stopped to give everyone else a chance to talk about their goings-on.

“Research shows the quality of family relationships is more important than their size or composition. Whoever the family is made up of, they can build strong, positive relationships that promote wellbeing and support children and young people’s mental health.”[3]

For children, having the opportunity to seek advice from parents they trust—as well as being able to have a sounding board and help with problem-solving—is priceless. In addition, being able to voice their opinions and be heard—and to feel like what they have to say matters—is an esteem-builder. All of these can have a very impactful positive effect on their well-being.

4. Helps the Child Feel Loved

How do you think a child feels knowing their parents want to spend time with them—talking, sharing experiences, playing games, listening to them? It will make them feel as though they are important, and a child that feels important is happier and more apt to thrive. Setting aside chores or work to spend time with your children demonstrates that they’re essential—that they matter. What a gift to give your child!

“If a child has your undivided attention, it signals that they are loved and important to you. This can be further nurtured by experiencing joyful activities together, as it demonstrates that you want to spend time with your children over and above all of the daily demands.”[4]

5. Creates a Safe Environment

If you regularly spend time with your children, you are also creating an atmosphere of trust. The more trust they have, the more likely they are to share with you what’s going on in their world. As they get older, you’re going to want to know. Negative influences can show up at any time, but if you’ve always been there for your child, they are more apt to come to you and ask for your advice.

Spending time together generates familiarity and feelings of being supported. When a child feels safe and comfortable, they’re more likely to open up. This is one way to get to know your child and know what’s on their minds. Are they okay? Do they need your guidance? If so, how?

6. Reduces Stress

This is significant. We all suffer from stress at one point or another in our lives. Spending time with family helps alleviate that stress. It’s an opportunity to talk things out, get feedback, and maybe brainstorm for a solution to the problem that is causing the stress.

According to Brandy Drzymkowski, “During the holidays, your closest five people probably shifts to family and friends. You may even get to see loved ones who live far away. Good news! This can actually help lower your stress levels. Studies show ‘face-to-face interaction…counteracts the body’s defensive ‘fight-or-flight’ response.’ In other words, quality time spent with loved ones is nature’s stress reliever.”[5]

So, now that you know some of the benefits, what are some ideas for making family time happen?

How to Make Family Time Happen

Here are four things you can do to make family time happen and spend more time with them.

1. Family Dinners

This, as I said above, is a wonderful way to spend time together. While you’re having dinner, you have the chance to discuss things that are going on in your lives—the ups, the downs, and everywhere in between. It’s like having a buffer against life’s challenges.

Aside from that, eating dinner together has many additional benefits. Studies have shown that for kids who eat regularly with their families, there is less risk of substance abuse, teen pregnancy, and depression.[6]

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“Our belief in the ‘magic’ of family dinners is grounded in research on the physical, mental and emotional benefits of regular family meals.” It further states, “We recommend combining food, fun and conversation at mealtimes because those three ingredients are the recipe for a warm, positive family dinner—the type of environment that makes these scientifically proven benefits possible.”[7]

According to Parenting NI, “children and adolescents who spend more time with their parents are less likely to get involved in risky behavior. According to studies done by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse via Arizona State University, teens who have infrequent family dinners are twice as likely to use tobacco, nearly twice as likely to use alcohol and one and a half times more likely to use marijuana.”[8]

As you can see, there are multiple benefits to spending time with each other routinely. You can’t go wrong with this family activity.

2.  Regular Movie Nights

This is another fun event, although, from personal experience, I have to caution that choosing a movie that everyone wants to see is not easy. So, give yourselves plenty of time so you don’t spend two hours searching for a movie, and then end up watching no movie at all because the night is practically over. Try and choose a movie before the day, if possible.

Afterward, open it up for discussion. Ask questions pertinent to the movie. What do you think of ABC? Should they have done that? Would you have done something differently? There are so many questions you can ask to spark a conversation and keep the night going.

3. Game Night

This is another occasion for great fun. If you have a competitive spirit, it makes it even more fun. There are numerous games out there—Balderdash, Pictionary, Apples to Apples, Charades, to name a few—that can create fun havoc. All I can say is, on game nights, don’t take yourself too seriously. It’s okay if you lose the game. The fun is in being together, laughing, debating, and having a good time.

In addition, “Playing board games is great for children for many reasons besides the obvious; it’s fun to play games! Age appropriate games can help children to think strategically, solve problems creatively, work on pattern recognition and build simple math skills. They also help children develop social skills such as following rules, taking turns, and graceful winning or losing. Additionally, a family game night provides an opportunity for children to bond with siblings, parents and family members as well as peers. It can promote tradition building and establish a fun routine.”[9]

So, go find your family a game and start having fun!

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4. Sharing a Hobby

If you and one of your kids like to do the same things, do it more often. For example, my oldest son and his teenage son go on long bike rides together on the weekends. Not only do they get to exercise, but they also get to talk and look at beautiful sceneries. They’ve also incorporated cooking into their routine. They plan the meal, shop, and prepare—activities that bring them closer together.

Sharing a hobby is a great way to bring family members together. It bonds people in amazing ways. According to Alison Ratner Mayer, LICSW, “One of the easiest and most important ways to build a child’s self-esteem is to spend time with them doing something not only that they enjoy but something that you also enjoy. There is a special magic that happens between a parent and a child when they share a mutually beloved activity. It sends the message to the child that their parents are having fun, true, honest, real fun, with them.”[10]

Final Thoughts

Spending time with the family is an investment. It is an investment in the happiness, well-being, and security of that system. It can also serve as a way to break out of the daily rut and the constant worldly demands, while at the same time, building a strong family unit.

Even though it isn’t always easy to find the time, finding the time is key to staying close and to providing and receiving love and support. There is no greater gift than the gift of time. That’s what we all seem to be missing nowadays. So, in giving that gift consistently, everyone feels loved and appreciated.

The family that takes the time to interact regularly is typically happy. They know they are part of a tribe, and that’s essential in today’s chaotic world. To know that there are people whom you can count on—people who will have your back in times of need—is invaluable.

Now, go and plan something plan with your family, if you haven’t already.

Featured photo credit: Jimmy Dean via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Pittsburgh Parent: Spending Time Together—Benefits of Family Time
[2] Roots of Action: Integrity: How Families Teach and Live Their Values
[3] Beyond Blue: Healthy Families
[4] Esperance Anglican Community School: The importance of family time
[5] Brandy Drzymkowski: Spending Time With Loved Ones Reduces Stress
[6] Harvard Graduate School of Education: Harvard EdCast: The Benefit of Family Mealtime
[7] The Family Dinner Project: BENEFITS OF FAMILY DINNERS
[8] Parenting NI: The Importance of Spending Time Together
[9] WNY Children: Family Game Night- The Benefits of Game Play
[10] Child Therapy Boston: The Benefits of Sharing a Hobby With Your Child

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