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Limit screen time for healthy children

Screen time is the best baby sitter. Screen time is defined as time spent in front of TV, Laptop, iPad or any handheld devices. It is a great solution when we want our children to eat their food, to stop jumping around, to calm them. It also helps us, parents, to complete our chores in peace. Screen time looks like the perfect solution to get children to do what we want. But it seems too good to be true, right?

There is a big catch to screen time though. A catch that any parent shouldn’t ignore. If children are exposed to too much TV/Laptop or iPad during a day (roughly more than 2 hours a day), they will have serious problems with their health.

Some problems that are attributed to screen time are speech and language delays, chronic attention problems, behavioural issues, obesity and irregular sleep. The problem starts because babies do not have their visual system and vestibular system developed. Visual system processes moving images on the screen, while vestibular system handles our mood. If the content on the television is visually stimulating, the child’s brain cannot process the information and is overworked. The mood system goes on standby because all resources are used by the brain. Repeated incidents of super-busy processing during stages of development could cause permanent changes in the processing pace that the brain seeks. A two-year old could potentially grow up feeling “comfortable” in the super-fast pace of screen media stimulation and uncomfortable in the normal pace of everyday life.

These problems are pretty bad and really as parents we must start limiting screen time. But how much is allowed?

American Academy for Pedeatrics has released guidelines on screen time for children. In a nutshell screen time should be a planned activity and not a passive watch by children. You can find the article here. Here is a quick summary of the important aspects of screen time usage

  • No screen time during meals or 1 hour before bedtime
  • No screen time for children below 18 months. Only video calls on Skype and FaceTime , as it helps connect with distant relatives
  • Screen time should be limited to 1 hour a day for children above 18 months to 2 years
  • Content viewed should be high quality and vetted by parents before hand
  • For children using apps, parents must use the apps before and explain to the child and only then let them use it

When in doubt about whether the program is good for viewing by children always think of the 3 Cs — Content, Context and the Child. This means, be choosy about the apps, games, TV shows that your children can watch. If your child is very young, engage with your child about the content. You can also use this excellent media planner to help you plan media time as a family.

I think we should all consciously work towards reducing screen time. Start small, remove the TV or computer for the child’s bedroom. Interact with children while watching TV and explain content whenever required. Replace TV / iPad during meals with conversations. These small steps will definitely go a long way to leading healthier life.

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