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Screen time: How much is too much? And are we asking the right question?

Screen time: How much is too much? And are we asking the right question?
APRIL 1ST, 2022
Mother and daughter hiking

Article Highlights:

  • Screen time is evolving and isn’t always bad. Screens can also be used for socialization with loved ones, creative pursuits, etc.
  • For girls age 2-5, The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends 1 hr/day during the week and 3hrs max on the weekend of high-quality screen time.
  • For girls age 6 and up, The American Academy of Pediatrics has shifted its recommendation from 2 hours a day to creating a more flexible plan for your family focused on building a healthy relationship with screens.
  • When possible, try building girls up with activities like exercise, outside time, crafts, reading, and socializing before turning to screens.

Are you worried your child is spending too much time in front of a screen? If so, you’re not alone. Parenting can be challenging enough without daily screen time battles.

We’ve all been there. Nagging your daughter who’s busily playing games instead of devouring her cereal or watching a Tiktok challenge when she could be climbing a majestic oak tree in the sunshine. 

It’s only natural to want to limit screen time when we observe a growing device dependence, and nurturing a healthy relationship with screens is an important part of lifting girls up. So today we’re sharing some easy ways you can encourage a positive relationship with screens and answering the question how much is too much.

But first, are we asking the right question?

The latest thinking on screen time

Considering 8–12-year-olds in the US average between 4 and 6 hours per day on screens, pediatricians have expressed growing concerns over how too much screen time affects children’s development, ability to focus, and sleep.

Societal concerns have prompted scientists to study how screen time affects children’s well-being. But with changing technology, it’s hard to measure because not all screen time is the same, resulting in conflicting advice. And as this study explains, a range of factors affect well-being, including parental support and family relationships. Screen time is only a small part of this.

While the debate rages, most scientists do agree on these key findings for children aged twelve and below:
  • Children younger than two learn more from real-life interaction than from screens.
  • Parents co-viewing content with kids can protect them from the downsides of screen time.
  • Watching too much TV is correlated with obesity in children.
  • Children lose on average 3-8 minutes of sleep with each hour of screen time.
Some parents, caregivers and pediatricians worry about kids spending too much time on screens because that time takes away from developmental activities like playing outside, drawing, or reading. However, as tech becomes more and more ubiquitous, experts are moving away from a focus on counting minutes to saying it’s the nature of content that matters. Both ideas raise questions about our approach.

So should we change our screen time approach?

As caregivers, if we can distinguish between the benefits of content and its potential harm, we can empower our girls. Think about activities like connecting with a grandparent over zoom rather than binge-watching Youtube. We can heed the advice of Devora Heitner, author of “Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World,” when she says: “I would look at their level of empowerment and their level of creative engagement and social engagement.”

So shift from focusing on tracking time to encouraging screen-free activities and considering screen time quality and safety. Try these:
  • Encourage green time before screen time—the Jam Jar Technique
  • Suggest ‘healthy’ screen time options

The Jam Jar Technique

Visualize a jam jar that you fill with activities necessary for your child’s well-being; regular nutritious meals, exercise, and sleep. Then add healthy activities, such as playing outside (green time), crafts, reading, and socializing.

Do the jam jar activities first. Then, give your girls some leeway with screen time.

You’ll see, it’s easier to focus on what your child can attain rather than avoid, and once they realize how much fun real life is, they’ll be less interested in zoning out. Bonus: you’ll create lifelong interests.

Need ideas for activities? Encourage green time with six fun activities or empower your daughter with these five books.

Healthy screen time

If you’re not happy with the content your daughter likes, explain why and provide healthy alternatives:

American Academy of Pediatrics Screen Time Recommendations

Let’s have a look at the AAP screen time recommendations for average screen time by age:
  • If your girls are between 2–5, limit to around one hour a day of high-quality screen time, and 3 hours on Saturday and Sunday.
  • If your daughter is six or older, the AAP used to recommend no more than two hours a day, but they’ve updated their advice and now suggest that families create a media plan using the guidelines below. (But we still think the 2 hours is a good place to start while putting your media plan together and implementing the jam jar technique.)

Media plan guidelines

  • Switch off screens during meal times.
  • Introduce non-screen zones.
  • Switch off devices 60 minutes before bedtime and keep them out of bedrooms.
  • Teach your girls about online safety.
  • Model sensible screen time behavior; leave the phone off during family time.
  • Avoid using devices as a babysitter when busy. Switch on the TV instead.
  • Don’t use screens to distract from tantrums.
  • Use parental controls.
  • Follow your child’s interests, engage with her content of choice.
  • Don’t bring a device when going out.
If you’re looking for substitutions for screen time, try listening to podcasts or audiobooks in the car, or filling a bag with coloring books, pencils, and board games for days out.

Final words

As soon as you start implementing these guidelines, you can empower your girl with fun screen-free activities and be confident that any screen time is educational.

But kids learn from observing, so the next time you feel like scrolling, why not show your daughter how to tackle that magnificent tree instead.

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