Interesting story: Screen addiction and its affects on children

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Too much screen time can take its toll.
Too much screen time can take its toll.

Too much screen time can take its toll.

Monday, the New York Times posted this story on screen time and our children:

I’ve written about my own children’s addictions, and I can tell you, that if the last week and a half of chilling out at home has proven: we have not made any gains in this area, especially during the summer.

Last year, I wrote a story about screen time being out of control in summer, with a lot of advice on what to do. All good tips, but hard to make it happen, right?

Here’s that story:

Hello, I’m Nicole, and I’m the mother of a screen addict. Last week, I took some of those screens away when I grounded my 10-year-old from computer time for two weeks. She was playing computer games hours and hours on end and wracking up charges using credit card information that had been stored by the gaming company, unbeknownst to me.

Ava shows all the signs of an addict jonesing for her next fix. She’s searching the house for the laptops. She’s unsettled and shaky, not knowing what to do without her precious computer. She’s trying to bargain with me. “If you just let me play ‘Sims’ for a few minutes, I’ll do the kitty litter.” That’s when you know she’s desperate.

I know she’s not alone. Summer is an easy time to fall into the too-much-screentime trap. Bedtimes are a little more relaxed, daily schedules have a bit more flex to them and a lot of our extracurriculars are on hold for a few months. We take road trips or airplane trips during which we applaud that the kids are quiet. Of course, they are quiet because, instead of looking out the window and watching the countryside go by or reading a book, they are on phones, tablets or portable gaming systems. They are missing the joy of the trip, and we are letting them.

And when the electronics run out of juice? Watch out; a full meltdown is about to happen, because they don’t know how to entertain themselves or just be without electronics.

The American Academy of Pediatrics updated its guidelines on screen time last year: No more than two hours a day of entertainment screen time for all screens – tablets, smartphones, TVs, computers, gaming systems – and no screen time for children younger than 2. The National Institutes of Health estimated that our kids are spending five to seven hours a day on them.

A lot of studies have been done that show that screen time can be harmful to kids’ health. It affects their ability to sleep, ups feelings of anxiety and depression and increases attention problems. It also is one of the factors in childhood obesity.

Here are a few recommendations on how to start getting your family closer in line with the academy’s two-hour-or-less guideline:

Don’t go cold turkey. It’s too much, too fast. Take small steps, adding a new rule or taking away something each week or two.

Quality over quantity. Instead of mindlessly watching TV, let the kids pick one or two favorites to watch each week.

Watch or play together. Yes, I know. Sometimes watching my daughter play computer games or watch her favorite show makes me want to scream. Yet, if we watch together, I’m making sure that there’s a conversation, not just mindless play or watching.

No TV, computers, gaming system, phone in the bedrooms. You can monitor what kids are watching and how much they are watching if they are not squirreled away in the bedroom. At night, you especially want the smartphones off because that’s when all of their friends are trying to text them instead of letting them sleep.

It’s also when kids are not monitored and all kinds of mean or unsettling phone behavior can happen.

That old saying, “Nothing good happens after midnight, ” applies to electronics as well.

Set an example. If you’re constantly on the phone or computer at home, what kid is going to follow your advice?

Even though we all have to work from home sometimes, try to make a point to set aside the electronics and make time for family.

One thing at a time. Multitasking might look like efficiency, but why do you need to be on the laptop and smartphone while watching TV and eating dinner? Dinner should be the priority. And that TV as background noise is not a good idea because kids will end up watching it even if they don’t realize it.

Be the boss. There are apps for setting time limits on smartphones and tablets, like Screen Time, that will physically turn off the device. You also can buy devices like BOB Screen Time Manager for the TV and computer. But the best monitor doesn’t come in an app or a device. It’s you setting the limits and enforcing them. Be the parent.

Find other things to do. Busy kids don’t miss their machines. If you’re traveling this summer, pull out a deck of cards and learn a new game. Bring drawing paper and colored pencils. Have the kids create their own board games while you are driving. When you stop for the night, it’s time to play their game. They also can set up scavenger hunts for each other.

Never underestimate the power of a good game of hide-and-seek or the journey of an early morning or nighttime hike.

Get out of the house. Have the kids plan a daily field trip. It doesn’t have to be expensive – the library is free, as is a park. You can even have the kids do the research on where to go and what to do when they get there. (That kind of screen time doesn’t count if they should need the computer to do the research.)

You don’t have to unplug completely, but it’s time to remember to live in the real world, not just the virtual one your kids created.

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