Screen-free Challenge

“Screen-Free Week” is May 2-8. It is a week where individuals and families can challenge themselves to watch less, or no, TV, spend less time on their ipad, iphone, ipod Touch, iwhatever. Check it out here
It’s a chance to get outside, play a board game, read a book, take a bike ride, shoot some baskets, go to the park, bake some cookies, paint a picture, plant some tomatoes. Or anything else you may find fun. Check out this site for some good ideas.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity recommend no screen time for children under the age of 2 years, and less than two hours a day for children over the age of 2 years.On average, however, 30 percent of babies under 1 year old in the U.S. watch TV and videos for 90 minutes a day. Sixty-five percent of 1 to 2 year olds watch more than two hours a day. Preschoolers spend two to four hours a day on average with screens, and kids over the age of 8 average a little more than seven hours a day with devices.

You probably already know why your kids should spend less time in front of a screen, but I’ll list some reasons here anyway. Increased screen time is linked with increased caloric intake (mindless snacking while watching TV), increased BMI and obesity, irregular sleep patterns and decreased sleep duration. Younger children show delayed speech acquisition with increased screen time. For older children and adolescents, excessive screen time is linked with increased hyperactivity, emotional and conduct problems, daytime fatigue, difficulties with peers, and poor school performance.

There is some talk now in pediatric circles and the AAP that we should accept the fact that screens and devices are here to stay. So, since we can’t get parents and kids to limit screen time, we should encourage them to partake of more “educational and enriching” material. That’s great for kids under the age of 3 as you can control what they watch. But past that age they can pretty much navigate a device better than I can. I once saw a 15-month-old patient take her mom’s iphone, punch in the password, and start a video! So yes, it’s great to encourage better programming, but the kid is going to do what they want to on the device. Therefore, parents need to limit TIME on devices.

Here are some recommendations for everyday screen use (try to do better than this for Screen-Free Week):

  • No cell phones in kids’ bedrooms at night. They must be plugged in in the kitchen or perhaps on YOUR bedside table as some kids sneak downstairs and nab their cell phones once their parents are in bed.
  • Turn off the TV at meal times. No devices allowed at the dinner table.
  • Set certain days of the week as screen-free days. Some of my patients’ families allow no TV on weeknights.
  • Set a good example: Limit your screen time to two hours a day.
  • For older kids, limit ipad or iphone time to 30 minutes, then remind them to do something else for a while. They were born digital and sometimes just need a little push to explore the unplugged world.
  • Push kids of all ages outside when the weather is nice. For older kids, keep them involved in a sport. This keeps them more physically active, but also more socially active. Teens with no activities can become addicted to their devices. In many Asian countries there are teens and 20-somethings being treated for video game addictions the same as alcohol or drug addiction.

So, if I’m preaching to the choir here, and your family already does all or most of this stuff, keep up the good work. If you see room for improvement, take baby steps and slowly change the digital culture in your home. You will likely notice many nice side effects will follow.

Check out the entire Screen-Free Week website here