Sunday, September 24, 2023

Guidelines for Parents: How Much Screentime Should Children Get?

Many associations have issued guidelines for screen time allowance for kids of various ages.

Screen time is the total time spent in a day viewing screen—mobile phones, computers, TVs, and any other viewing devices such as video game boxes.

Adults use them extensively for work or leisure. It has become a severe addiction needing remedial action for some. Unfortunately, children are far more vulnerable.

Pros and Cons of Screens for Children

Screens are needed and useful for children. Today’s generation is aware of the world unlike ours, thanks to ubiquitous media presence. Educational and creative opportunities offered by screens for schoolwork and art creation are immense.

On the negative side, violent video games and inappropriate media content can affect children, who are at an impressionable age.

The optimum way forward is in a balanced use, just like anything else.

There are superb, detailed documents and websites that answer many questions in detail such as:

  • What is the right age to introduce screens to children?
  • Should children be allowed the use of social media?
  • What are the negative effects of prolonged use?
  • What kind of eye damage is possible and how much screen viewing causes them?
  • What are good online manners and how to teach them to children?

I will give a link to them at the end of this article. I may also write about them in future one by one. In this article, I will restrict myself to just a summary of various guidelines.

Guidelines for Screen Time

Limitations of Guidelines

  • Guidelines of different associations for screen time may not match, as they have different agenda or interests:
    • Paediatric associations concentrate on developmental issues;
    • Psychology associations focus on mental well-being;
    • Eye associations target vision disorders;
    • Family-oriented associations consider societal angles; while
    • W.H.O. considers childhood obesity issues.
  • The science behind guidelines is rarely clear-cut, especially about social issues. The experts have to balance various considerations and come to a conclusion.
  • Guidelines are for ninety-five per cent of the population. There will always be outliers and exceptional cases.
  • Finally, guidelines are not rules; never abandon common sense for an authority statement.

Here are recreational (excluding educational and school work) screen times recommendations:

  • Age 0 to 2 Years: No screen time, except for an occasional video call to a family member;
  • Age 2 to 5 Years: Less than one hour a day on weekdays, less than three hours a day on weekends; and
  • Age 5 to 16 Years: Less than two hours a day on weekdays.

A Mutiny At Hand

Now, let us admit that these guidelines are practically impossible to follow—you will face a veritable revolt in your house from your youngsters.

To put that in context, the adults are advised less than two hours of recreational screen time and less than eight hours of daily work-related screen time a day. How many adults do you know who abide by these?

As I write this, I checked my average mobile phone usage, which is five hours thirty-seven minutes a day over the last fortnight, though admittedly I use my phone for some work-related social media use, too.

So you may feel enlightened reading this article but it will make no difference to the health of your kids.

My thirty years in the healthcare industry tell me that if anything is difficult to implement, it will not be done. We are creatures of emotions, not logic: fifty years of bombardment about the ill effects of smoking rarely stop anyone from his next puff, but a heart attack does that instantly.

The solution I have found is to make things difficult for bad habits, and easier for good ones. Here are some practical tips on those lines that you can implement in your household.

What To Do Involving Children

  • Model good behaviour for your kid by adopting it yourself. Kids don’t do what you tell them; they do what you do: remember the apocryphal tale of the father telling his son never to lie and then asking his spouse to take his boss’ call and say that he is not well and sleeping? As they say, culture is caught, not taught.
  • Encourage your child to take up activities that do not involve a screen—sports, music, or social participation (acting, dance, music, arts).
  • Do not offer screen use as a reward for good behaviour, to stop tantrums, as a babysitter while you do household chores or in the case of an infant, a pacifier.
  • Teach a young child and talk to an older one or teenager about what it sees on the screen versus your values and viewpoints.
    • If there is a serial, show, or news playing, clarify where you stand in that situation on support, friendship, anger, revenge, cheating, etc.
    • Discuss with the child what you would have done in those circumstances.
    • The Sanskrit language has a word for it: Sanskar (loosely meaning the process by which positive qualities are developed and enhanced in a child).
  • Teach children about online privacy and safety.
  • Turn off all screens, including yours, during family meals and outings.
  • No screens, including yours, thirty to sixty minutes before bedtime.

What To Do Without Involving Children

  • Once in a while, check what your child sees on screens and make sure it is age-appropriate.
  • Familiarise yourself with how a child’s choices are shaped by advertising.
  • Learn how to activate parental controls. Here is how to set up parental controls on Android phones.
  • Learn about how to check screen usage time. Here is how to check screen usage time on Androids phones.
  • Depending on your child’s need, give it its own mobile phone between the age of ten and fourteen. The device can be given at a younger age for safety reasons. For example, if the child needs to contact parents while out for some sports or coaching class. Do not give them a phone to ease their peer pressure.

Finally, evaluate your child’s maturity. There are no perfect rules, only guidelines.

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First Published On: 3rd June 2023
Image Credit: brgfx on Freepik


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