Screen time for the school year: Expert offers tips

Keeping kids off of tablets, phones and television can be a problem during vacation, but with teachers instructing students to use screen technology to complete assignments, it may seem like your kids are glued to devices from sunrise to sunset.

Local mom Heidi Hisey admits that screen time supervision is often needed for her 9-year-old son, Andrew, who can be tempted to lose focus and play games like Minecraft and Roblox while doing homework on the family iPad.  “Having to monitor my son’s screen time can be overwhelming, because he is often relentless in negotiating for more time to play on the tablet,” Hisey said.

While it may seem like screen-based homework makes it easier for kids to spend more hours on their device of choice, Thomas Robinson, MD, MPH, director of the Center for Healthy Weight at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford, has some helpful tips for parents looking to set boundaries around family screen time – and the pointers are good all year-round:

Work or play? “We encourage parents to focus their children’s screen time on educational resources rather than entertainment, as the same qualities that make children’s use of screen technologies potential risks for health and developmental problems also make these gadgets helpful for learning,” Robinson said.

Draw the line: “Set a screen time budget,” Robinson said. “Based on our studies, I suggest keeping recreational screen time to no more than seven hours per week — or one hour per day — including TV, DVDs, video games, computers, tablets and smartphones.”  Bonus for your kids: Robinson says that educational screen time doesn’t count toward fun screen time. Also, he recommends that parents draw the line between real educational screen time and entertainment disguised as education.

Teach kids to “do as you do”: “When talking to parents, I emphasize the importance of modeling the behaviors they want their kids to follow,” Robinson said.  “It’s tough to get children to reduce their screen time if their parents are consistently on their phones, tablets and computers.”

Turn off the tube: “The more time kids spend with screens, the less time they are spending being active, which can lead to increased weight gain,” Robinson said. “In addition, kids tend to eat more while watching screens, and the exposure to food advertising leads to increased consumption of high-sugar, high-fat and calorie-dense foods. So one of the most important things a family can do is to eliminate eating while watching TV and other screens.”  He recommends the rule: “no eating in front of screens.”

Get moving: Dr. Robinson says that children should get at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day, which can take the form of playing sports, walking, biking, skateboarding or scootering to and from school, or just playing around on the playground or outside.

Bottom line: “More than anything else, just having family rules about how much, what, when, where, and with whom is the most important step in making screen time and technology work for your family, instead of against it,” Robinson said.

Discover more about our Center for Healthy Weight or call 650-694-0600.


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