With kids out of school for the summer and temperatures rising, it may be tempting for parents to offer up video games and television as convenient and cool entertainment options. However, physicians at Atrium Health Navicent caution parents that too much screen time can be bad for their children’s development.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), children ages 8 to 18 spend, on average, 7.5 hours in front of a screen for entertainment each day, 4.5 of which are spent watching TV. For children ages 11 to 14, the average screen time tops 9 hours a day. Over a year, that adds up to 136 full days.
Although screen time can serve as a good learning tool and video chats allow children to connect with loved ones, Dr. Christy Peterson, a pediatrician at Atrium Health Navicent, reminds parents that there is such a thing as good and bad screen time.
“The best type of screen time is the time that is supervised by you! Parents should be the most influential factor in a child’s life. Therefore, using a screen to entertain your children takes you out of the picture and leaves your children vulnerable to all of the negative effects of the screen,” said Dr. Christy Peterson, a pediatrician at Atrium Health Navicent. “Screen time should be limited. A screen does not replace a responsible adult.”
Too much screen time can lead to obesity and addiction. The CDC recommends kids get at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day. The time kids spend watching TV, playing video games or surfing the web is time they could be physically active.
“The time that a child is on a screen is time that he is not being active, and children need to be active,” Peterson said. “Time on screens has a direct relationship with obesity; meaning the more time a child spends on a screen, the more risk there is for obesity. Also, screens are addictive. Early childhood exposure to screens creates a ‘need’ for screens that is hard to overcome later in life.”
Parents can help their children by limiting screen time to no more than 1 to 2 hours per day, and ensuring they have 1 hour of physical activity each day. Creative ways to do this include removing televisions from children’s rooms and encouraging children to join clubs or participate in sports.
“Especially take screens away during meals and sleep — this is a must! As parents, you should designate screen-free times or zones in the house,” Peterson said.
Other ideas to help children make the shift to less screen time include:
Keep bedrooms free of televisions or computers.
Do homework away from the television.
Use a radio for background noise rather than the television.
Be intentional about what programs you want to watch ahead of time, and plan it out.
Try other family activities like board games or going for a walk.
To set an example for your children, take note of your own screen time habits and limit yourself to 2 hours a day.
Keep books, magazines and board games in the family room.
Make a list of fun activities to do instead of being in front of a screen.
Set family guidelines for age-appropriate shows.
Some fun, screen-free ideas to occupy your children this summer include:
Playing with blocks, puzzles or Legos
Creating artwork or other crafts
Reading a book
Going for a walk
Learning to cook or bake
For information about Atrium Health Navicent’s children’s services, visit https://childrenshospitalnh.org/.