The Science As It Stands
Whether or not screen time has any effect on children remains a controversial topic that’s often misrepresented in the media. For example, the World Health Organization’s statement that screen time was “not recommended” for children under one year was spun out as a grand indictment of our screen-obsessed culture. However, that report was about keeping children physically active and only looked at screens in that context.
The truth is the actual science on the topic is unclear. While we know more about the mind than we have at any other point in human history, much of the brain and how it develops is an unexplored scientific frontier. Adding to the problem is that every brain is different, and that raises some serious questions.
For example, if a study claims screens cause depression, is that true of everyone? Is it only true of people who may suffer from depression? Is it a direct cause, impacting brain chemistry or structure, or an indirect cause, a ripple effect from other causes? Scientists can spend decades on these questions.
That said, screens can almost certainly disrupt our sleep cycles, reduce our overall physical activity, and smaller-scale mental health studies have found that how you use screens determines their effects. Social media users who stay in touch with friends have better mental health, while endlessly scrolling through Instagram might destroy your self-esteem.
Using Common Sense
In other words, while there may be specific risks to too much screen time, we probably don’t need a study to determine that kids shouldn’t be watching TV or playing video games all day. Take these steps to help your kids with their life-screen balance.
- Set clear rules and schedules with clear reasons behind them. The rules should include exceptions for needs like homework.
- Limit exceptions adults in the family get to the rules. For example, if dinner is a no-screen time, you should put your phone away as well.
- Make certain times of day, like bedtime or dinner time, screen-free times.
- Enforce schedules and rules with parental control apps.
- Limit access to screens, such as not allowing chargers to be plugged into walls next to couches, or only allowing devices to be charged out of bedrooms and family common areas.
- Make screen time contingent on other factors, such as homework and chores being complete.
- Consider emotional health: If kids are having a meltdown over an online game, it’s time for them to log off, quite possibly for good.
Screens are always going to be a point of contention, whether science clears them as safe for kids or not. Parental control apps like Screen Time can help kids maintain a healthy relationship with screens. To learn more, try it for free!