As children grow, they have access to more and more screen time on multiple devices — a trend that makes it difficult for parents to monitor and guide media use. Kids are growing up digital, and today's parents must manage the risks and benefits of a digital world.
The negative and the positive
Digital media, including interactive and social media, offers both risks and benefits to children and teenagers. Too many hours of screen time can affect sleep, attention and learning. Risks also can include:
• A higher incidence of obesity and depression.
• Exposure to inaccurate, inappropriate or unsafe content and interactions.
• Compromised privacy and confidentiality.
While benefits can depend on factors such as age, stage or media design, overall benefits include:
• Exposure to new ideas, knowledge and collaborative learning opportunities.
• More opportunities for social awareness, engagement and support.
• New opportunities to access health information and resources.
Begin by being a digital role model
Some ways to model healthy, balanced media use include putting away devices at mealtimes and making sure there isn't a device nearby when talking with your children. If you are using a device in front of your children, try to do so for positive reasons, such as exercise or professional responsibilities. When your kids see you're not attached to a device, they may realize they don't need to spend a lot of time using their devices.
Tips for managing and balancing screen time
• Plan a screen-free night for your household. You'll improve your family's well-being and build deeper connections.
• Co-view media with your kids. Sharing an experience offers a range of positive effects, especially for preschoolers and younger children.
• Encourage active screen time. Look for dance games or exercise videos. Find educational content. Tour a national park or a museum. Make a virtual visit to a new place, or take advantage of online books.
• Play video games in which friends can join remotely. This can be a great way for kids to connect and build social skills. Just be sure to check age ratings before giving the OK.
• Use podcasts and audiobooks. Encourage kids to find favorite podcasts and audiobooks. Their eyes will get a break from screens and they'll improve their listening comprehension skills.
• Set limits on passive screen time. Creating a personal family media use plan can help you set up goals and boundaries for your family.
• Ensure digital safety. Adjust device settings so children can't access sites you consider unsafe. Check browser histories and make sure your children aren't involved in sexting or cyberbullying.
• Most importantly, keep the lines of communication open so your children come to you with any concerns.
Fitting technology into children's everyday lives is a challenge for today's parents. Moderation is key. Making screen time meaningful with quality media is essential to maintaining health, wellness, connections, success and happiness.
Dr. Maggie Egbarts is a pediatric hospitalist at Columbus Community Hospital.