Why Limiting Screen Time Helps Kids

Young Child Playing with Smartphone

If your child is using apps, shut off the wifi before giving your Smartphone to him. This helps reduce the amount of radiation he’s exposed to.

Proof about something I’ve always believed: a new study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, found children get more sleep, do better in school, behave better, and see other health benefits when parents limit content and the amount of time their children spend on the computer or in front of the TV.

But here’s the clincher: the effect isn’t always immediate, says Douglas Gentile, lead author and an associate professor of psychology at Iowa State. It could, says Gentile, have an effect on your kids seven months later!

Does this mean kids shouldn’t have any “screen time” as we call it in my house? No, as that would be almost impossible in this day and age of  iPhones and iPads. But creating limits so your kids aren’t spending hours upon hours of time on the computer or in front of the TV is what’s key.

The study also found that children got more sleep if parents limited screen time, which also resulted in lower risk of obesity. Parents limiting exposure to violent media resulted in increased prosocial behavior and lowered aggressive behavior seven months later.

“As parents, we don’t even see our children get taller and that’s a really noticeable effect. With media, what we’re often looking for is the absence of a problem, such as a child not gaining weight, making it even more difficult to notice,” Gentile said.

“Even with changes that we do notice, we really don’t recognize in the moment how all these things are related to each other across time,” he added. “Yes, as screen time goes up, school performance goes down, but that doesn’t happen overnight. If I watch a lot of TV today, I don’t get an F in my class tomorrow.”

What we do at our house: no more than 30 minutes a day during the school week (though this gets quickly taken away if homework isn’t done, you don’t get ready for school on time, and you fight with your brother or sister)—and then an hour each day on weekends. (Each child has a physical timer that gets set so they know when to cut screen time off.) It seems to work, but I do notice when it creeps up (by lack of vigilance on my part), behavior does get worse: there’s crankiness, more fighting, and plenty more “There’s nothing to do!” comments.

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Valerie LatonaAbout Valerie Latona
As the former editor in chief of Shape (the active lifestyle magazine) for 5 years, I personally spoke with a lot of women (thousands over the years, from around the nation) and what I found is this: it's not easy to stay healthy, to get (and stay) fit, and to stem the weight gain tide (and even the tide of disease) that inevitably happens to us as we get older.