Technology is often recognized as a double-edged sword: for all of its benefits, there are corresponding detriments that must be managed.
Screen time has become synonymous with life in the 21st century. Hand-held devices, computers, streaming TV, and gaming consoles have connected us in ways never previously imagined, allowing for exponential productivity growth. At the same time, though, experts are tracking the physical, behavioral, emotional and psychological development toll all of this technical dependency is causing on adults and children alike.
Understanding the Downsides
It’s not hard to find the upside to technology. Everything is at our fingertips. It makes our lives instantly easier. We have immediate access to any information we want, we can order goods and services to be delivered in 2 days or less to our doorstep, and we are able to see and talk with anyone around the globe at any time.
What could be bad? Well, it turns out, more than a few things. Research has shown excessive screen time can result in an increased difficulty in acquiring and participating in social relationships, lack of empathy, and the quality and quantity of communication skills decrease. Additionally, people develop low levels of perseverance (they give up easily). On a physical side, the sedentary lifestyle of technology dependency contributes to higher levels of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and insomnia.
Setting Healthy Limits
There’s no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Getting rid of technology completely is not the solution. But finding a balance that allows parents and children to reap the benefits, while minimizing the downsides is key. Sticking to the middle is the goal, by consciously working to make screen time a healthy part of growth and development.
The universally accepted guidelines for screen time limits with children are as follows:
- Under age 2: None. Children under 24 months do not need any screen time. The rare exception would be letting a baby interact on a video chat with friends or family.
- Ages 2-5: One Hour per Day. This should be high quality programming that encourages interaction and engagement.
- School-ages 5-12: 1-2 Hours per Day. With technology being integrated more and more into the classrooms of all students, this is considered “active” screen time. Children are actively working on assignments and schoolwork, and not “passively” being entertained. Their home screen time usage can incorporate this passive entertainment.
- Teens and Adults: 2 Hours per Day. The more screens are used for work and school, the less they should be used for relaxation and entertainment.
Creating Screen-Free Habits
Simply stating “no screens” hardly ever works. As parents, we need to facilitate activities and habits that naturally remove screens from the equation. For example, these could include:
- Tech-Free Zones: During every meal time. During bedtime routines. One night a week is the screen-free night. Established times and places where screens are never used.
- No Screens in Bedrooms: Make all tech live outside of the bedrooms. TVs, gaming systems, computers – all are used in communal areas, and charged outside of a bedroom overnight.
- Unstructured Play Time: Establish set times with no structure. Let kids be bored and figure out how to entertain themselves.
- Prioritize Physical Activities: From organized sports, playdates at friend’s houses, to regular family walks around the neighborhood – make getting out of the house, engaging in person with others, and using their bodies a regular priority.
- Stop Media Multitasking: Only allow one screen/tech input at a time. No background TV or music while doing homework.
August Digital Detox
At the Speech Pathology Group and Rehab Services, we understand establishing these limits and boundaries, or transitioning away from poor habits, is difficult. Success requires a plan. For the month of August, we’re encouraging our families to attempt a Digital Detox. Stay tuned for details next week of what this will entail. But by making small changes, and gradually creating new habits, parents and kids can begin on a path to a healthy technology lifestyle.