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Generation Couch Potato: Setting Guidelines for Screen Time

Baby using a digital tabletTechnology is everywhere these days. Just look around the waiting room the next time you’re at the doctor’s office or on the subway or at a café. Almost everyone you see will be texting or surfing the web with a smartphone or an iPad.

And home is no different. In the old days, they just had to worry about how much TV kids were watching. Now it’s TV, Xbox and Wii, iPods, cell phones….the list goes on and on. I had a student once that talked to me so much about the characters in his video game that for weeks I thought he was actually talking about friends of his! It was clearly all he did when he was home.

While electronics seem like an easy way for kids to amuse themselves and keep out of their parent’s (and each other’s) hair, the truth is, letting kids have too much screen time can be harmful in a number of ways. Excessive screen time has been associated with spikes in obesity, decline in academic performance, sleep problems and behavioural issues, just to name a few.

According to a study by the American Academy of Physicians, the average 8-year-old spends 8 hours a day in front of screens, and teenagers can spend as much as 11 hours a day on their devices. This works out to most of their waking lives!

Setting Guidelines

It’s up to you as a parent to set up some rules around screen time in your house. So how much is too much? The recommendation by the American Academy of Physicians is that children should be limited to less than two hours of entertainment-based screen time per day. The recommendation for children two and under is no screen time at all.

It’s also important that your children do not have a TV or internet access in their bedrooms, and they shouldn’t be allowed to go to bed with their phone or iPod. The temptation to sneak under the covers and text or try to get to the next level of a game is just too enticing.

Electronics should be turned off at least an hour before bedtime or it could significantly affect your child’s ability to fall asleep. Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute did a study that revealed that light from electronic devices significantly lowered levels of the hormone melatonin, which in turn affects your child’s ability to fall asleep.

It will be an adjustment if your child is used to coming home and spending endless hours playing video games, but with a little help from you he will adapt. If your children are younger it will be up to you to offer suggestions for other things they can be doing with their time, such as reading a book, drawing or…gasp…even going outside to play!. Less time on screens means more time for creative play and connecting with family members, which will help your children thrive as they get older.

And remember, Mom and Dad…if you tell your kids it’s time to get off their devices you should probably put your phone down too. You can finish that level of Candy Crush another time!

Now it’s YOUR turn! How much screen time do you give your kids each day… and how do you control it? Share your best advice in the ‘Comments’ section below! (I’ll choose one commenter to win something cool…)

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Dana’s Sleep Blog

Straight talk about sleep, parenting,
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My blog is a great place to find opinions, advice, the occasional rant, and some great videos about sleep.

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