Take Time to Unplug

Summer vacation is in full swing.  Kids have more time on their hands to do the things that they enjoy – like playing Minecraft and video games, texting friends, or watching episodes of their latest TV show.  An infographic created from a 2012 study by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention found that students ages 11 – 14 nearly 9 hours in front of a screen each day – with nearly 5 hours just in front of the TV.  And with the advances in today’s technology, it’s only fair to assume that those numbers have grown.1


Some research does show that exposing children to technology does have a number of benefits – including improved language skills and hand-eye coordination.  However, too much technology can do more harm than good.  Research suggests that children who experience too much screen time have an increased risk for obesity, a higher need for instant gratification, a shorter attention span, less energy, and even a harder time deciphering human emotions, among other things.2


In this day and age of growing technology, it is important to set limits on screen time – not just for children, but for the entire family.  When parents spend too much time on their smartphones or on the computer, it can have a negative effect on their children.  One independent study found that kids did not feel important enough to their parents since they always ignored them to take phone calls.  Children should never feel neglected, especially not like this.3


So how much screen time is recommended for kids?


Dr. Aric Sigman, an Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society, has been asked to speak numerous times on his researching regarding children and social media.  Here are his recommendations, presented in a 2010 presentation in the UK:


            “Ideal screen time limits are:
                            3 – 7 years: 0.5 – 1 hour per day
                            7 – 12 years: 1 hour
                            12 – 15: 1.5 hours
                            16+ years: 2 hours*”


*Dr. Sigman adds that parents must consider the amount of time their children are spending on the computer to complete homework before establishing a limit on their child’s screen time.4


Limiting screen time can be a challenge, but it is something that every household should discuss.  With summer vacation in full swing, children now have more opportunities to log on and spend their day inside, in front of a screen.


Here are some basic suggestions to help regulate screen time in your home:


FAMILY DISCUSSION – Before unplugging the television and shutting down the iPads, bring the family together to talk about decreasing screen time as a family.  Talk with your family about the dangers of too much screen time and make your children part of the solution.  If they are involved in the process, they will be more likely to follow it.


TRADITIONAL FAMILY MEALS – Set a rule that electronic devices will not be allowed during meal times.  Stop eating meals in front of the TV or with your phone at your side.  Enjoy the bonding time together as a family to talk about your day and have everyone pitch in to clean up after the meal.


SHUT DOWN TIME – Agree on an established time each night when all electronics will be shut down – including TVs, smartphones, iPads, computers and video games.  Spend the time together as a family before going to bed.  (For example, an 8 pm shut down time would leave time for a board game, allow time for everyone to get ready for bed, and still get a full night’s sleep.)


UNPLUG THE BEDROOM – Resist the temptation and remove all electronic devices from every bedroom in your house.  Screen time before bed can cause sleep deprivation.  Instead, choose books to read before bed and invest in a clip-on book light.


ALTERNATIVE ACTIVITIES – No doubt, once the electronics get limited, your children will start complaining that they are bored and have “nothing to do”.  Here’s a creative way to come up with activities that your children can help with, too!  Invest in a set of popsicle sticks.  On each stick, write down one activity you can do that does not require a screen.  (Examples could include walking the dog, riding your bike, playing a board game, doing a puzzle, reading a book, baking, etc.)  Place the sticks in a tall opaque glass so you cannot read the suggestions.  Now when your children claim they are bored, they can select a popsicle stick with a fun activity.  (You may even consider color-coordinating your sticks – eg. blue for outdoor activities, purple for games.)


MODEL THE BEHAVIOR – When making family changes, it is vitally important that the parents lead by example.  Your child won’t want to put down her cell phone if she sees you on yours all day long.  Model the behavior your wish to see from your children.  (This is not limited to screen time – model manners, reading habits, proper hygiene, and more!)

1 Herrscher, Rachael. “Average Screen Time for Kids.” Today’s Mama. N.p., 24 Apr. 2012. Web. 15 July 2015.

2 Wolpert, Stuart. “In Our Digital World, Are Young People Losing the Ability to Read Emotions?” UCLA Newsroom. UCLA, 21 Aug. 2014. Web. 15 July 2015.

3 Neighmond, Patti. “For The Children’s Sake, Put Down That Smartphone.” Shots — Health News from NPR. NPR, 21 Apr. 2014. Web. 15 July 2015.

4 Sigman, Aric. “The Impact Of Screen Media On Children: A Eurovision For Parliament.” Quality of Childhood Group in the European Parliament. Brussels. Aug. 2010. Web. 15 July 2015.

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About the Author

Dave Hoffman