Time Out From Screen Time

Family Sitting Together on Couch Looking at Digital Devices
Healthy Living
Time Out From Screen Time

To schedule an appointment with Dr. Stager, or any MetroHealth pediatrician, call 216-778-2222.

Screen Time Challenge: Do you have what it takes for a timeout? Click here for a printable weekly screen time chart for your family.


Mobile phones, tablets, computers, televisions and gaming systems have become staples in most households. Though these devices can be useful and even educational, studies show that extensive time spent using them can be detrimental to your child’s well-being. Fortunately, there are good strategies to help you successfully limit your child’s screen time — and keep tabs on yours as well.

The Problem with Screens

“There’s good research out there about the link between too much screen time and sleep disturbances and shortened sleep in children and teens, which makes it more difficult to pay attention and behave at school,” said Margaret Stager, MD, a pediatrician and Division Director of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine at MetroHealth.

Screens hurt sleep because they:

  • Take up time that should be spent on Z’s. For example, teens may stay up at night texting their friends instead of getting much-needed rest.
  • Emit blue light that interferes with the body’s circadian rhythm, or sleep cycle, by delaying the release of the important sleep hormone melatonin.
  • Provide access to content that may be distressing or stimulating. Social media can be especially upsetting or exciting.

Screen time also takes away from time spent outdoors in nature and from spontaneous, creative play, both of which can help children focus in class and better manage their emotions, said Dr. Stager. In addition, some research has linked violent video games with aggressive behaviors — pushing, hitting, threats and insults — in children and teens.

Recommended Time Limits on Screen Use

To help reduce your child’s screen time, Dr. Stager recommends using the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) family media use plan tool. General guidelines for screen time, which includes TV, mobile phone, tablets, computers and gaming, are:

  • Ages 0 to 18 months: no screen time other than chatting with relatives using video conferencing.
  • Ages 18 to 24 months: if you want to introduce screens, you should provide only educational content and co-view it and discuss it with your child.
  • Ages 2 to 5 years: limit to one hour a day of high-quality, educational content.
  • Ages 6 and older: place limits on daily screen use and monitor what children view. Dr. Stager suggests no more than two hours of use daily.

You may need to have regularly scheduled family meetings with your teenager to discuss rules for screen use, said Dr. Stager. “High-schoolers tend to want a lot of privacy, and establishing rules can be tricky.” As a parent, stay up-to-date on the latest technologies, including new online games, chat apps and other social media platforms your teens may be using so you can set healthy limits.

To schedule an appointment with Dr. Stager, or any MetroHealth pediatrician, call 216-778-2222.

Screen Time Challenge: Do you have what it takes for a timeout?

Change your kids’ (and your own) screen time habits by challenging yourselves to stay off your devices as much as possible. Who will be the winner in your family?

  • Have device-free dinners where everyone, including you, puts away phones and tablets. Teens tend to engage in fewer high-risk behaviors when they regularly have dinners with their families. Try cooking new or favorite recipes together. Then sit around the table and talk about your day.
  • Keep electronic devices with internet access out of the bedroom. Some kids use their phones at night to dial down and relax, but this isn’t a good way for the brain to rest. If your kids are little, spend some extra time reading with them before bed. You can also buy or borrow from the library the latest young adult novels for your teens. See who in the family can read the most books in a month.
  • Host regular family board-game nights. Try old favorites like Monopoly, Life, Scrabble or Pictionary. Get in some exercise with games that require movement such as Twister and Cranium Hullabaloo.
  • Encourage “green time” instead of screen time. Spend some time outdoors, whether it’s walking through a park on the way to school or going for weekend hikes. Being in nature can boost mood and decrease stress in both kids and parents.
  • Create a family agreement as to when and where phones are off-limits. This may include the first hour when everyone is home from their day, the dinner hour or during a family activity.
  • Most important, parents need to role-model responsible screen time and put away their phones during family time.

A Note on Video Games

In addition to adhering to the AAP recommendations for screen time, “every parent can set rules about which types of games are allowed in their home,” said Dr. Stager. Playing video games can also be based on a reward system, not an automatic, as-long-as-you-want system. Some families have rules that video gaming is allowed only on weekends or after homework and chores or only if there has been good behavior.

 

Sergio Bardaro   Contributor
   Margaret Stager, MD  
   Division Director of Adolecent Medicine