Now that school has started again, I thought I’d revisit my blog series about things parents can do to help their child be successful in school. I’m sure most of you are familiar with the advice to limit “screen time.” It is not just TV watching anymore, but we also have video games, smart phones, tablets, and the computer. It has become increasingly difficult to limit the time our children spend in front of screens, and during the summer months, when it is too hot to play outside and there is no school, it is even more challenging to enforce screen time limits. As a parent I admit that giving my child some time to watch TV or play on the iPad gives me some much needed peace and quiet, or extra time to get things done! 🙂 But now that school has started again there are some very good reasons to enforce screen time limits again:
- The more time children spend in front of screens the less time they have for free, unstructured play. Free play is essential for children’s social, emotional, and cognitive development. When children are engaged with free play they actively use their imagination, which is much more beneficial for their brain development than being passively entertained. Free play helps children develop creative thinking and problem-solving skills and is beneficial for cognitive flexibility. These are also skills that contribute to academic success.
- Childhood obesity and lack of physical activity is a major public health problem in the United States. When screen time is limited, there is more time and opportunity for physical exercise, which is important for academic achievement. Many schools have limited recess and physical education due to constrained budgets and an attempt to maximize instruction time. Therefore, it is even more important for parents to ensure that children get regular exercise.
- Excessive screen time is associated with attention problems. Particularly when children are exposed to screen time at an early age (before age three), there is a significant correlation between the hours of screen time a day and attention problems at school age.
- Being in front of an electronic screen close to bedtime is related to problems with sleep. Getting sufficient sleep is essential for success at school. Lack of sufficient sleep is associated with problems with attention, memory, and mood. To help your child fall asleep more easily, it is important to avoid exposure to screens for at least one hour before bed.
- Electronic screen time limits our opportunities to engage in face-to-face social interaction with others. Social connections are key in our happiness and wellbeing. One thing you can do is introduce a “no electronics day” one day a week, and instead spend time as a family engaging in outdoor activities, cooking together, or playing old-fashioned board games. Having a strong and supportive relationship with your child is an important factor in their success at school, and their general wellbeing in life.
Now that we considered some of the reasons for limiting screen time, the next question is: how much is too much? What should the time limit be? There is no “right” answer for every family and every child. Therefore, the “right” amount of time is what works for your family and your child. First, it is important to determine how much time your child actually spends in front of a screen. You may want to keep track of screen time for a week or so, in order to get a good sense of this. Then you could consider how much time is needed to spend on homework, extracurricular activities, and general household and self-care activities (eating dinner, getting ready for bed, etc.) Then also consider how much time your child actually spends in free play, face-to-face interactions with family and friends, and physical activity. If you feel your child’s screen time is interfering too much with any of these activities, you can have an open, collaborative discussion with your child about the need to limit screen time. Together, you can come up with a plan from which the whole family will benefit!
My last tip (and this is something I personally need to take to heart as well, as I am on my laptop right now… 🙂 ) is to provide a good example for your child. When you are home together put away your phone, turn off the TV, close your laptop, and go outside and be active together!