Kids spend nearly 7.5 hours per day with media.
Balancing media usage is an essential part of growing up.
When it comes to screen time, both quality and quantity matter.
Our kids are growing up in front of screens. From smartphones to gaming devices to the ever-present computer, our kids seem mesmerized by them. According to a Kaiser Foundation study, kids as young as 8 are spending nearly 7.5 hours per day consuming media. That’s not surprising. Video games, Facebook, the Internet, and even TV -- they all seem so much more interesting than, say, doing homework. But studies have shown that all of this screen time can impact everything from kids’ health to their school readiness.
The solution isn't as simple as turning everything off. There’s a huge difference between an hour spent shooting zombies in Zombie Duck Hunt and the same amount of time spent learning vocabulary from a smartphone app or composing music online.
Likewise, different types of TV shows can affect kids' thinking. A 2011 study published in the journal Pediatrics suggests that watching just nine minutes of a fast-paced cartoon had an immediate negative impact on kids' ability to think and plan ahead.
And while more research is needed to fully understand the effects of all media on kids' brains, it's a good practice to pay attention to both quality and quantity.
In today’s 24/7 digital world, learning to balance media usage has become an essential part of growing up. Just as kids learn not to eat too much candy, they must learn how to manage their media diets. While it helps to start when your kids are young, it’s never too late to teach them how to recognize when enough is enough.
As parents, we need to guide our children toward activities that help them learn, stimulate their interests, and express their creativity. The task then becomes separating the mindful from the mindless. Following these simple steps will greatly help you and your kids manage -- and even optimize -- screen time.
Set an example. Do you hand your kid a smartphone in restaurants, keep the TV on during dinner, or check your email constantly? It'll be harder to teach your kids how to balance media usage if they don’t see you doing the same.
Set limits. Parents can help kids develop self-control by working with them to create a schedule that incorporates all of the things they need to do in a day. Make sure that homework, hobbies, and good learning games come first. And you may want to schedule in some downtime. Childhood development experts say it’s good for kids to be idle -– and maybe even bored. Those moments allow for introspection and the development of self-awareness.
Get involved. Remember, not all screens are created equal -– so make sure you know what your kids are doing. Take the time to sit down and play their favorite game with them or look at their latest digital creation. Once you have a sense of their interests, you can help them make better decisions about what they watch, play, and do. Plus, the more involved you are with your kids' digital lives, the better conversations you can have with them about their media choices.