How to avoid excessive screen time for kids

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First, what is screen time?

Screen time is the amount of time one spends in front of a device, whether it is an iPhone, iPad, laptop, desktop, TV or a video gaming device.

How much screen time is too much for my kid?

Initially, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended no more than two hours of screen time for children and teenagers and absolutely no screen time for children under two. However, the AAP has since recognized that this is unrealistic in today’s digital world, especially during the pandemic. They also recognize that technology can be a valuable component of learning. So instead of prescribing specific times, they updated their guidelines to encourage parents to allow screen time in moderation, emphasizing supervision (especially for younger kids), healthy role-modeling, and engaging with their child’s technology.

An exception to this rule is for children younger than 18 months. AAP discourages use of screen media except video chatting. Meanwhile, parents who want to introduce digital media for toddlers 18 to 24 months should choose high-quality programming or apps and use them together with their toddlers.

(Suggested source: Common Sense Media is a good source of high-quality content. They review popular websites, apps, games, and TV shows. Their recommendations are backed by research and an advocacy for “healthy internet for all”)

What if my child goes beyond recommendations?

We all agree that too much screen time can have a negative impact on different aspects of children’s development. You’ll know that they have gone beyond their limit when:

  • It’s hard for your child to sleep at night.
  • They are starting to exhibit attention problems, anxiety, and depression.
  • Their progress at school is affected due to lack of concentration and focus.
  • They are showing aggressive behaviours toward siblings and peers.
  • Your child has unhealthy weight gain.

How do we save our kids from excessive screen time?

  1. Open communication

  2. Encourage open communication with your kids about the damage that too much screen time can cause their body and mind. Initiate the conversation by watching an age appropriate video or a cartoon, or by reading a book to them on this subject. A great resource is “Cami And Wyatt Have Too Much Screen Time” by Stacy C. Bauer. It’s a videobook (which again, is on screen) but it’s seven minutes of positive screen time for them. You can also mute the sound and read the dialogue for younger kids who don’t know how to read yet.

    Cami And Wyatt Has Too Much Screen Time by Stacy C. Bauer – Videobook For Kids, Wekom

    Also read How to encourage open communication with your kids

  3. Search for ideas for activities

  4. Search the internet for age appropriate activities and list them down. There are tons of educational websites you can look into like Pinterest, and YouTube channels like KIDS craft, TheDadLab or 5-MINUTE CRAFTS.

  5. Start a schedule

  6. Get a big weekly planner and schedule these activities. Your kids should participate in writing these activities on different days of the week on the planner. If they can’t write yet, encourage them to present the activities by drawing, pasting pictures from old magazines, or using stickers. Post the planner on the wall within their reach so that they can check it themselves.

    Here are some suggested activities:

    • Library visits: Plan regular visits to your local library; they usually have monthly activities for kids. They will also develop the habit of reading fun, illustrated, and colourful books. Let them explore their choices.
    • Play dates: If possible, connect with other parents at your child’s school, in your neighbourhood, or within your community. Your kids will learn how to socialize with their peers and make friends during play time. If it is hard to make those connections, the neighbourhood playground is the most convenient place for your kids to play and have fun.
    • Crafts and art time: Set a budget to prepare a “craft bin” and fill it with craft supplies. Get different materials from dollar stores or for free from community centers like ArtsJunktion Center or Flavie Laurent Center. You can also recycle household items like milk cartons, juice boxes, or paper plates as art supplies.
  7. Get them into sports and recreation

  8. There are many other free sports and recreational activities around the city for kids starting from age five and up. Some require a fee but you can apply to the fee subsidy program to help with the cost.
    Check the City of Winnipeg’s monthly brochure Leisure Guide. It has a variety of free activities like swimming sessions, public skating or children’s play program.

    Other seasonal physical activities that you can explore with your kids are hiking and tobogganing. You can also visit entrance-free wading pools and splash pads around the city in summer.

By Mounira Ajenkar
Sources: Why Screen Time For Kids Needs To Be Controlled (video); Adequate sleep, limited screen time can decrease impulsivity in Children, American Academy of Pediatrics; and How much should you limit kids’ screen time and electronics use? Amy Morin, LCSW, very well family magazine. Accessed October 19, 2021.

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Community Resources

To learn more about healthy screen time, read 5 tips for smart digital parenting and Can’t keep your child away from computer games? 10 steps to healthier gaming for kids.

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