Should Screen Time be Limited? How and Why
MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT SCREEN TIME LIMITS
There is a general misconception that screen time inhibits and isolates children and teens when in large measure the games and online activities are most often engaged by several children at once in grade school and high school promoting not only socialization but collaborative problem solving and an enrichment of imaginative thinking.
However, more pertinent concerns are the impact of screens on eye care, concentration for long periods of time, and deficits in learning to read and enjoy books on paper and in magazines.
SCREEN TIME LIMITS AT VARIOUS AGES
Very young children under the age of 3 need to be prevented from screen time entirely because it interferes with learning from the environment. Infants, for example, thrive on facial recognition and voice tones of the significant people in their lives. Screens would be overstimulating and interfere with this normal gradual development in the first year. In the second and third year, screens still continue to take a child’s focus out of their environment with real people and put the kids in a trance like state where everything and everyone is tuned out.
By kindergarten, however, screens will be used in and out of school and it begins to be appropriate to not only monitor screen time but what is viewed. Ages 4-8 I suggest half an hour. From then on into adolescence screen time alone should be one hour not including school work and social engagement with games that promote problem solving, critical thinking, and imaginative story telling that may continue for a second hour. Time alone on screens is significantly different that social time. Also by age nine many children are becoming proficient at computer usage including programming, coding, and even building their own computers from scratch. This technological ability is to be encouraged and often is by parents with engineering and computer science skills of their own.
REASONS TO ENCOURAGE NON-TECH ACTIVITIES AND HOW
The encouragement of non-tech activities should be based on kids’ interests in the arts, literature, athletics, robotics, science and art competitions, and lots of imaginative free play with others. Time spent alone not on a screen is also very valuable and often discouraged as if only extroverts are successful in life. The ability to enjoy alone time improves concentration, the development of in depth interests, self-esteem, and the regulation of anxiety and moods.
RULE SETTING AS A COLLABORATION BETWEEN PARENTS AND KIDS
The question of how to “enforce” rules about screen time is a parenting skill. Even the word enforcing suggests an authoritative/punitive slant that isn’t necessary. Parents who talk and listen to their children can collaborate on rule setting by explaining the common sense about the rules. There is no need for any kind of punishment if the rules aren’t followed. Instead, this suggests more discussion is needed so that the children and teens can critically assess rules they want to follow rather than experience such rule limit setting as punitive which it is not if you read above the reasoning behind the rules. An attitude where rules are to encourage learning and cooperation and responsibility is a far more satisfying approach for children and parents. If following a rule is considered a kind of behavior that has meaning, ie. Parental Intelligence, then rule following behavior is sensible and thoughtful. If it falls apart, there is meaning that the parents and children and teens need to discuss, not argue about certainly. Rules, like routines, help us all feel secure and stable. They are not designed as prohibitions. With that focus there will not be power struggles and battles about rules and limits but shared understanding that promotes critical thinking and problem solving at all ages.