By Shanti Kurada, MS, MBA
We all know that excessive screen time impacts kids and adults negatively. But how do we stop our kids from getting too much screen time? Here are 6 strategies to use that aid in limiting screen time.
1. Understand what counts as screen time – this includes TV watching, computer and video games, iPad games and smart phones. Even if your child is playing Candy Crush on your phone, while you’re standing in the grocery line, that counts as screen time.
2. Watch your habits. Kids imitate parents. They learn from our actions rather than our words. If a parent or grandparent is always watching TV or browsing on the phone, and the other parent is trying to limit screen time for the kids, it won’t work. Have a talk with your spouse/partner/other family member and try to come to some sort of agreement on the issue. Once the adults are aligned on a policy, it becomes much more easier to deal with the kids.
3. Do not give lectures on the evils of screen time. Simply sit down with your child and make a specific plan. Write it down on paper and draw pictures if needed, so your child can visualize. Some
parents like to use a calendar for this purpose.
4. How much screen time is harmless and how much is bad? It is hard to put an exact number on this. Ideally, no screens should be allowed during weekdays, when the child is in school. Most kids come home from school at 3 pm and go to bed around 9 pm. There’s plenty to do in those 6 hours. For instance, a child’s after school routine could look like this –
3 to 3: 30 pm after school lunch/snack
3:30 to 5:30 pm homework and studying for tests
5:30 to 6:30 pm outside play (or if it’s raining, inside play)
6:30 to 7pm help with dinner (setting the table, etc.)
7 to 8 pm dinner (preferably with whole family, if not with some of the members)
8 to 8:30 pm socialize with family, share the events of the day
8:30 to 9 pm eat some fruit, brush your teeth, read, go to bed
for older kids (middle-school, high school), the after-dinner time may be spent on additional schoolwork, anything they’re struggling in or need help with.
5. So what to do on weekends??? No school means an additional six hours at home. It is important to have some sort of routine for the weekend. You could assign the mornings for schoolwork that is due on Monday, to avoid last minute Sunday night scrambling. Afternoons can be spent on sports and other activities that the child enjoys. Also take your child along for grocery shopping and other errands, so they participate in the community – this is a great time to work on many of your academic and behavior goals.
6. Summer time – if your kids are not in camp or summer school, then summer time is like one long weekend. Which means that you would need to schedule it just like your weekend – having a routine helps a lot. Your summer routine could include some academic work, running errands, as well as fun activities and trips to places of interest.
Reading Versus Screen Time
Reading engages the mind in ways that screen time doesn’t. Here, some of the differences are outlined.
The information is digested more slowly – reading forces you to slow down and think. The information is given to you instantly – before you are able to digest it. Then the next piece of info is thrown at you, and so on, in a continuous stream. The only way to keep up is to become less attentive. You can interpret it in more than one way – thus it
creates alternate pathways in the brain.
It is presented to you in only one way. This limits your thinking. You need to visualize the information that you read. Although kids with special needs greatly benefit from the visual learning on screens, if they have the ability to read, this must be encouraged, in order to build the skill of visualization without supports or with less supports. Also some people with special needs are auditory
learners and screens can be distracting and interfere with the learning process.
Reading mentally stimulates the brain into creating more neurons, at any age. This does not happen with screens. The visualizing aspect of reading helps build imagination and creativity, which help with problem solving. Visuals are constantly provided at an alarming rate, overwhelming the senses, and forcing us to shut out vital information.
Sports Versus Screen Time
Physical activity helps avoid many illnesses such as diabetes, obesity, and heart decease. Builds sedentary habits leading to weight gain. Eyes are focused on various distances – near and far. Eyes learn to visually scan objects (such as ball). Eyes are focused on a very close object for long
Arms, shoulders, and legs are stretched, building
flexibility and coordination.
Body becomes more rigid, while overuse of fingers and wrist muscles can lead to Carper Tunnel Syndrome and other problems. There is a social component to sports. Exercise that is done outdoors (walking, running, swimming, biking, playing at the park) requires exposure to people. Builds isolation. The brain needs to process space, distance, and time in the real world. For instance, while playing soccer, one must be aware of the ball at one’s feet, the players closest to you competing for the ball, as well as the goalie in the distance. Distances and reaction times are often distorted
unrealistically to fulfill fantasy and satiate the senses.
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