January 6, 2021
It’s the eternal question of digital family life: How much screen-time is too much? The answer, say experts, lies in your child's behavior.
Figuring out a healthy balance for our kids has never been easy, but in the time of COVID, the challenge has grown downright impossible.
With children transitioning to remote learning and parents working from home - or attempting to - the screen-time goalposts have moved dramatically.
Add to that the seasonal spike in gaming, streaming, and social media over the holidays and the risk of screen-time blowout has never been more real.
One survey of more than 3000 parents found that kids’ screen-time had increased 500% during the pandemic. And even before COVID hit, children were spending far more time with devices than experts recommended.
Ideal world vs. real world
The American Academy of Pediatrics, for example, currently advises no more than an hour of screen-time daily for preschoolers. In real life, the average two-to five-year-old spends more than twice as long in front of a screen (2 hours, 39 minutes).
Interestingly, the AAP no longer sets a specific screen-time limit for older kids, simply recommending that “digital media not interfere with physical activity or sleep.”
Experts are in increasing agreement that screens per se are not the enemy - but rather the sedentary lifestyle, social isolation, and distractions from work and learning that may be encouraged by too much screen-time.
That makes setting screen-time boundaries hard. How can you tell when your child has had enough - or too much?
Watch out for these telltale signs that indicate they’ve gone over their own personal “legal limit” and need to take a breather.
Signs of overstimulation
We often think of screen-time as a passive or even mindless activity - but in many cases that couldn’t be further from the truth. The content kids interact with is often so compelling that their brains become overstimulated.
That can either look like a child “shutting down” and zoning out - or, confusingly, the exact opposite: that he’s bouncing off the walls.
Signs of frustration
Parents frequently report more irritability in their kids after they play their favorite video game. But why? Consider the definition of frustration: the feeling of being upset or annoyed, especially because of the inability to change or achieve something. Kids who are highly engaged in gaming really care about their performance, and may also perceive (correctly!) that they are being judged by their online peers.
If you notice signs of irritability and frustration after gaming, experts recommend you help them develop “decompression strategies.” Ask them to talk about their gameplay when they are done playing. Processing their thoughts can be an efficient way of defusing frustrations. Also: make sure they’re not hungry or thirsty, and try to ensure they follow a gaming session with non-screen activities, whether physical or social.
Signs of fixation
There’s a fine line between fun and fixation. If your child seems to be developing a one-track mind, even when offline, that should set off alarm bells. Is Fortnite, Minecraft, Roblox, or a certain YouTuber the only thing they seem to talk about? If so, this is a clear early warning sign that it’s time to reconnect with interests and activities IRL (in real life).