With so many sources of online entertainment, many parents worry that their children spend too much time “plugged in”. What are the warning signs to watch out for? Pediatrician Michael Rich, director of Boston Children’s Hospital’s Center on Media and Child Health and the Clinic for Interactive Media and Internet Disorders, helps us identify when to worry about screen time.
“When their lives or their health are impaired by it. The thing that we see are sleep problems, either sleep deprivation and/or sleep disruption of various kinds. We are seeing academic failure. We are seeing social problems. We are seeing increases in anxiety and depression that have a relationship to but are not necessarily solely caused by problematic interactive media use.”Pediatrician Michael Rich
Loss of Interest
When the child starts dropping out of things that she or he loves it is a problem. A lot of these kids will be athletes that just give up sports. They will give up social events or opportunities to do things outside the home because they want to stay in front of a screen.
How should you monitor your children’s internet and media use?
Instead of yelling, “Turn off that game, I hate it,” sit down and play the game. Yes, you will not be happy; you will not win the game. But you’re letting your child know that you care about them and what they’re interested in; you care enough to be their student in how to do it. It also gives you a chance to see what’s going on.
Adding Structure to the Day
Limiting screen time is a good idea. Screen time limits are not. When you give a kid a screen time limit of, let’s say, two hours a day, it makes it the forbidden fruit. It makes it the thing that they then feel they have the right to do the moment they come home from school. And at the end of that time they don’t stop on their own. So it goes 15 minutes longer and it’s a conflict every single time.
Instead of imposing screen time limits, create a time management plan. Think with the child through their 24-hour day and start with the number of hours of sleep they need. A sit-down family meal every day, which is arguably the most protective thing you can do for your kids’ mental health as well as their nutrition. Physical activity, getting outside and doing stuff. And do this with the kid so that you are helping them prioritize what they want to do, helping them be mindful about what they do, and giving them the opportunity to step up and take responsibility for time management as opposed to you being the police officer and busting them.
Moderation and balance is key for physical, emotional, and mental health.
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