Is something always on at your house? How about when you were growing up? Pretty different, huh?
Today kids are bombarded with television, the iPad, home computer, handheld devices, or the Xbox, Wii or PlayStation—it can seem loud, confusing and sometimes stressful at home. Managing all this technology and limiting children’s time on social media, video games and the internet can be especially challenging for parents. But it’s important to do.
Many parents don’t realize how much screen time their children are consuming. According to Common Sense Media, 77% of 8- to 15-year-olds said they’d rather give up TV than give up the internet. And while most American parents estimate that their children spend about two hours a month on the internet, a Media Research Center study confirms that in reality, kids and teens are spending upwards of 20 hours a month surfing the Web.
A 2010 Kaiser Family Foundation report says children ages 8 to 18 spend an average of seven hours and 38 minutes a day consuming media for fun, including TV, music, video games and other content. It’s not surprising that the study also revealed that 41% of U.S. teens claim their parents have no idea what they are looking at online.
Why does it matter that our children are consuming so much media? Because it is affecting their mental, physical and emotional health.
“Studies show that kids who play violent video games for an extended period of time tend to be more aggressive, are more prone to confrontation with their teachers, may get in fights with their peers, and perform worse in school,” explains Dr. Wayley Louie, of the
Torrance Memorial Physician Network, Pediatrics, in the Network’s Manhattan Beach office.
Dr. Louie confirmed the “off switches” in kids’ brains aren’t fully developed until kids reach their early 20s. That means they need rules and structure to help them turn off the computer. Growing children need to be able to have real lives independent of their cyber ones to develop socially, emotionally and even physically.
However, Dr. Louie notes there are a few benefits from media involvement in small doses. “Some of the mental skills enhanced by playing video games include following instructions, problem-solving, logic, hand-eye coordination, fine motor, spatial skills, memory and concentration,” he explains.
The problem occurs when children over-saturate themselves with a bombardment of media, images, violent games, social messaging, etc.— affecting the way our children think, react and see the world. That is why the American Academy of Pediatrics is now recommending physicians add questions to pediatric well-check visits regarding media.
In the past, typical questions asked at well visits are about growth milestones, nutrition, sleeping habits, vision, emotional and social development. Now pediatricians “are encouraged to take a media history and ask two media questions at every well-child visit: ‘How much recreational screen time does your child or teenager consume daily?’ And ‘Is there a TV set or internet-connected device in the child’s bedroom?’”
Brenda Randall, a Manhattan Beach mother of three—ages 8, 10 and 12—has struggled more recently when it comes to limiting media for her children—as so many of her kids’ friends have more freedom than her own. Her advice is for parents to remember that they are not their children’s friend but their parent, and to dig deep to find “tough love.”
“What I tell my children when they tell me, ‘But Moooommmm, everyone else gets more play time than we do’ is ‘I don’t really care what everyone else is doing in their house. This is my house, my rules, and when you have your own house, you can make your own rules.’ They can scream, pout, yell, do whatever they want. I just ignore them,” says Randall.
It’s easier to limit media consumption when kids are active, and Randall keeps her kids busy with soccer and hockey. She did admit that it has been much harder to limit video games with her son than it is with her two girls. Thankfully, her son is consumed with hockey. As a competitive level player for a travel hockey club, he spends hours and hours on the ice each week.
Even so, Randall says she created house rules. During the week, “almost no” TV and zero video gaming. Video games, which are the hardest for her to limit, are only played on weekends and luckily, they have many games and activities. No internet-connected devices are in bedrooms with the one exception of her son’s iPad, now required for homework at middle school. Her oldest is allowed his phone on days there are hockey practices in cases of emergency.
Another challenge is how to handle play dates, as other kids have other rules. “I do try and limit the amount of video gaming during play dates at my home. If my son goes to a friend’s house, I can’t really monitor. I just let him go with the flow. When at my house, I don’t allow them to play a full hour without stopping and without switching and playing outside for at least the same amount of time or more. They’re usually pretty good about switching between indoor and outdoor. Sometimes, they end up watching a little TV instead of playing video games, and if they have homework, that comes first of course.”
She empathizes with parents of boys, as she notices that her son is “much more attached” to games and devices than her girls.
“He is really attached to his video games. First it was the Wii, then it became the Xbox, then the school iPad (until I removed all the games and added restriction filters to the iPad). Now it appears to be his iPhone. I think it’s a challenge for us because he might feel he doesn’t get enough time to play, and the little time he gets during the weekend, he doesn’t want to sacrifice. With that being said, he usually ends up getting banned for some reason or another because he doesn’t stop playing when we ask him to. I think there’s so much technology out there—and video companies come out with something new every week—that he doesn’t have a minute to miss!”
Both Randall and Dr. Louie agree that parents just have to continue the fight to limit media time and keep kids active. “Multiple studies have shown that excessive media use can lead to attention problems, school difficulties, sleep and eating disorders and obesity,” reiterates Dr. Louie.
With that in mind, parents must remember that two things will likely happen as your children enter middle school and teen years. The first is that they’ll want to engage in more games and social media.
The second is that they’ll probably argue and fight house rules—showing how powerfully addictive media is. Experts say you should understand that, expect it, and keep your cool. Continue to ban children if they disregard time limits and remember to be a good role model by staying active and limiting your own media time!