Between e-mail, instant messaging, video games, and television, electronic media has infiltrated almost every aspect of our daily lives. However, the impact of all this time in front of a screen is not entirely positive. While some media exposure can be useful and informative, too much screen time takes away from other activities. It should come as no surprise that pastimes such as reading for pleasure, playing board games, and volunteering within the community have been on a steady decline in recent years. In addition, many experts believe the amount of time on the computer a person spends in a typical day is a significant risk factor for obesity-related health problems.
Screen time becomes a particularly important issue when discussing children's use of media. Pediatricians and child development experts now recommend children's screen time be limited to no more than two hours per day. This includes television as well as video games and non-school related computer usage. Parents of children under the age of two are generally encouraged to allow no screen time at all.
Unfortunately, it appears that this recommendation is not followed in most families. One recent study found that children between the ages of eight and 18 spend nearly 45 hours per week watching television, playing video games, and surfing the Web. This is more time than they spend doing homework, talking with their parents, exercising, or reading for pleasure. To further compound the problem, much of the electronic media that makes up children's screen time is filled with violent and/or sexually inappropriate content. Even babies are not immune to the effects of media exposure; the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 61% of children age one year or younger watch screen media in a typical day.
What can busy parents do to address the issue of too much screen time for children? The most common recommendation is to not allow televisions and computers in your child's bedroom. Keeping electronic media in central areas of the house makes it easier for you to set limits regarding appropriate usage. Avoid using television, video games, and computer time as a reward for good behavior. Provide plenty of other recreational activities for your child to enjoy and strive to set a good example for your children with regards to your own media usage.
Making media consumption a family activity is another way to reduce the potentially harmful effects of screen time. This is especially important for teenagers, since you'll want to take any opportunity available to discuss your family's expectations regarding drugs, alcohol, and sexual relationships.