EVERYDAY HOME  | 9.27.18  |  by Terra Wellington

If you want your children to have the best chance at brain development and do great at school, then screen time is not where it’s at.  According to a new study in The Lancet, American children are spending 3.6 hours staring at a screen each day.  And this amount of screen time along with less exercise and less sleep, says the Canadian researchers who conducted the study, is connected to inferior brain development and poor academic performance.

Most of us know that our children are getting too much screen time.  What can you do about it?  Here’s some recommendations.

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Utilize Screen Time Control Apps

For phones: Do a search in any phone’s apps store or the app itself, and many options have popped up for limiting screen time.  iOS 12 has built-in screen time settings in the phone, and you can set them up as a parent of a child on the child’s phone.

For all television options, streaming or otherwise, you’ll have to determine if there are parental screen time controls available.  If not, the best way to restrict time is to place house rules on how much TV and when.  Some families do not allow TV’s or computers in the bedroom, and this makes it more clear when screens are being used on the larger devices.

For the computer, take care to differentiate between fun time on the computer versus doing homework on the computer, and set up screen time rules.  Again, many families place the computer in the den or living room area where it can be monitored.

Add In More Alternative Activities

Instead of all the screen time, two swap-out activities that the study recommended are: more sleep and more physical activity.  Both sleep and exercise, the study found, contributed to better language, memory, attention, and thinking abilities.

The recommendation is that children need nine to 11 hours of uninterrupted sleep, less than two hours of screen time, and at least 60 minutes of exercise – every day!

The study’s lead author Dr. Jeremy Walsh of the University of British Columbia said —

Evidence suggests that good sleep and physical activity are associated with improved academic performance, while physical activity is also linked to better reaction time, attention, memory, and inhibition.

Be okay with more unstructured time

Once you reduce screen time, yes you can replace some of the extra available time with exercise and sleep, but that may still leave you with extra time after extracurricular activities and homework is completed.  What do you do with that extra time?

Many U.S. households will want to fill that time with more structured things to do.  However, The Urban Child Institute encourages that families allow “real-world social experiences and lots of ‘unplugged’ play.”  Here are some ideas –

  • Have toys that allow imaginative play, like building blocks, crafting supplies, a costume trunk, and any type of toy that encourages make-believe play. A toy workbench, a play fridge or kitchen with fake food and kid dishes, pretend cash register with things to “buy,” clay set with molding tools, science lab activity set, toy vacuum.
  • Get them involved in chores, even with an earning money program for doing household chores and jobs.
  • Make regular trips to the library and encourage reading. Take advantage of library read-for-reward reading programs and other library events.
  • Put an emphasis on making time for family dinner. Make it together, eat together, and talk with each other.  This not only creates cooking skills but also provides valuable social skill time.  Studies also show that eating together can create positive self-esteem if the parents utilize the time to listen and be interested in their children.
  • Go outdoors. You can go into your backyard or bicycle to the local park.  Make it a lifestyle choice to put funds and time toward basic recreational items like a basketball, soccer ball, bicycle, and other simple outdoor recreational tools that bring fun, skill, and good times outdoors.