One time when I was playing with my 4 years old kid in a bedroom, I went out to the dining room only to take a drink and planned to go back inside the room after that. Suddenly my daughter emerged from the bedroom to hand me my handphone which was left in there. It struck me how she thought I had to bring my cell phone anywhere with me even inside the house. I knew I was very dependent on my smartphone, but at that moment I realized I was extremely clinging with this thing. Because I spent too much time using my mobile phone, she also wanted to play with it. Although parents and kids can benefit from using gadgets, there are also drawbacks to avoid. In this post, I would like to discuss the positive and negative effects of screen time, and how to reduce it.
Is it bad for children using gadgets in this digital area? The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) in 2016 has recommended limiting screen time only 1 hour for kids 2-5 years old, and a maximum of 2 hours per day for kids 5-13 years old. Whereas infants under 2 years old should not have screen time at all. I believe a kid can be exposed to the digital world but not too much. The definition of “too much” may be varied for each child and the parents. Some very restricted parents set only 1 hour a week for children until 5 years old. The other parents might be a little bit loose… come on, who is not tempted to let the kid play her tab so she can finish her housework?
These are some benefits of introducing the digital world to kids in their early age:
- A cheaper way to learn new good things: improve English, sing and dance, learn how to build Gundam. Kids who used gadgets since the early years might also be easy to adapt to new technology in the future.
- As a reward to do something good. My kid was a picky eater. I tried using gadgets to make her open the mouth and try the new foods we offer. Once she tried it and she liked it, I did not need the gadget anymore to force her to eat that.
- To make the parents can do their tasks and make them insane for a while. Happy parents happy kids!
Meanwhile, these are some flaws we can identify from doing screen time too much:
- Radiation. It is believed to affect the brain and eyes in the long term.
- Reduce attention span, making kids not focus on doing their tasks
- Become less social
- It is generally not good for body growth because it makes kids do less movement and physical activities.
- Get bad influence. A gadget can be a tool to learn new things either good or bad.
Actually, my addiction to gadgets is triggered by the anxiety of being unproductive. I feel guilty and cannot stand to just being idle. This “productive-addict” is developed into a gadget addict because almost all tasks can be done in one single smartphone. I can read (e)books, write some articles and organize my to-do-list. Often the objectives to do such things lead to unnecessary actions such as watching videos or checking social media.
This is my plan and action to reduce my phone screen time:
- Stick to the original plans when checking gadgets. For example, if I need the mobile phone to check some recipes, I should only read that recipe, without accessing other unrelated websites.
- Allocate checking emails and social media at a specific time, for example, 30 minutes each in the morning, noon and evening.
- Use other tools to do specific tasks. For example, read a real book rather than an ebook, write using a pen and notebook instead of notes apps on a mobile phone.
The above approach can also be adopted to prevent kids from accessing gadgets too much.
- Set a specific time and place for the kid, and stick to it. For example, allow kids to watch TV for 30 minutes in the morning, 1 hour at noon, and 30 minutes in the evening. Or let them watch videos on Youtube only during the weekend.
- Prepare many sets of activities that do not involve gadgets, and play with them in a room without a TV.
- Children are smart. Give them good reasons why they should not watch TV or use iPad too much, for example: “it is not good for your eyes”.
Many health professionals have suggested limiting screen time for less than 2 hours per day for kids under 13 years old. Although we need to educate our kids according to their era (in this case, the digital era), we also have to keep them from the bad side of technology. Children tend to follow their parents’ habits. If the parents reduce their own screen time, children might follow their steps. Nonetheless, the effects of screen time can be varied for each kid. The parents might know what’s best for their kids. And the most important thing is, please do not judge other parents on how they raise their kids.