Getting Kids Off the iPad

Is it worth the fight?

Do you sometimes wonder whether going head-to-head with your children over screen time rules is worth the fight?         

A recent study confirms that, yes, getting your kids off the iPad—and other electronics—is worth the battle.

            The results of the research, published in JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) Pediatrics, found that parents who limit their child’s screen time can witness numerous positive effects for their kids, including better sleep, improved grades, less aggressive behavior and lower risk of obesity.

            Researchers analyzed more than 1,300 third, fourth and fifth graders in Iowa and Minnesota who were participating in an obesity-prevention program. They collected data at the beginning of the study and again seven months later on topics such as height, weight, bedtimes, screen time limits, behavior, grades, aggression and exposure to violent video games and other media.         

What they found was that kids whose parents set limits on their screen time had lower body mass indexes and better sleep habits, performed better in school and were more social compared to kids who did not have screen time rules.         

How Much Is Too Much?

In 2013, the American Academy of Pediatrics released its new policy on children and media use: no more than two hours of passive screen time daily and no screen time at all for children under 2. It also encouraged parents to ban all internet devices—including smartphones—from children’s bedrooms.

These recommendations apply to entertainment screen time, such as internet, TV and various smart devices, and not educational usage required for school and homework.

Why Should Parents Limit Screen Time?

  • It may interfere with sleep. Electronic stimulation has been proven to interfere with slumber, both falling asleep and staying asleep. Getting enough z’s is challenging for today’s kids, who often balance school, homework, sports and other extracurricular activities. Throw in a few hours of iPad time on top of all that, and you have a recipe for an overtired kid.
  • It may lead to less physical activity. More screen time has been associated with reduced physical activity and higher risk of obesity in kids. After all, you can’t play a game of neighborhood kickball when your nose is pointed to a screen.
  • It limits social interaction. Kids who are staring at a screen several hours a day are not spending quality time with family and friends (entering each other’s world in Minecraft doesn’t count as quality time). We’re social animals and need face-to-face interaction.
  • It may encourage short attention span. Studies have shown that too much screen time may be associated with attention problems.
  • It may expose kids to inappropriate content. My 7-year-old was looking up photos of beluga whales on the internet one day—innocent stuff, right? Well, one picture that popped up had a four-letter word, totally unrelated to whales, printed across it. Of course, much worse content is out there on the Web, including references to sex, drugs and violence, plus pedophiles waiting for their prey.

What Can Parents Do to Limit Screen Time?

  • Set a rule: No electronics until _______ is done. Raytown mom Melinda Sims says of her three children: “Homework, chores and physical activity come first, and I often tell them to ‘pause it’ to do something for me.”
  • Take an active role in your kids’ media usage. Do you know what your children are doing while they are “plugged in”? Many parents don’t. Familiarize yourself with the games they are playing and watch videos/programs together to make sure they are kid-friendly and to know how long they are.
  • Don’t allow electronics in the bedroom. Parents need to monitor their children’s screen time, and they can’t do that if their kids are holed up in their rooms with their devices. After Lenexa mom Beth Ashby caught her oldest son hiding his Kindle under his pillow and watching SportsCenter in bed, she and her husband enacted a new rule: the device must be put on his parents’ dresser at night.
  • Make “off limits” areas and times for media usage. Some examples: no electronics at mealtimes, during family outings, on vacations and at church (yes, I’ve seen kids playing on devices during a worship service). Recently, my husband and I had a date night, and the family of five seated next to us at the restaurant all had their heads down, on phones and other devices. They hardly spoke 10 words to each other during the entire meal.
  • Practice what you preach. Ashby says, “I think it's important for parents to exhibit restraint. I've seen way too many kids trying to get their parents’ attention who just won't put down their phones or unplug for a bit. I'm guilty, too, on occasion.” Most of us are guilty at times, but kids won’t take our rules seriously if we’re constantly plugged in, too.
  • Consider an allowance system. Allot children a certain number of screen time hours a week (8 is a good number), and allow them to choose whether they use a little each day or save them up for the weekend. This will teach kids to balance their time as they would a monetary allowance, and allows them some control.

Tisha Foley and her husband make sure their two kids balance screen time with plenty of physical activity and reading (real books, the kind you hold in your hand with pages to turn). They make their home in Belton.

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