Limit screen time for triple benefits

I’ve been trying to limit my children’s time in front of the TV since they were knee high. I know it’s bad for them but I’m not sure why, something to do with brain development. And I’ve tried, believe me, not to succumb to the gentle and mesmerising promise of a half hour’s peace at the end of a hectic day.

We hear it time and again, but somehow we suppose that an extra hour won’t hurt them. But according to (more) recent research, limiting the hours our kids watch TV or use the computer can have a beneficial effect on their sleep, behaviour and school performance; A triple whammy, but is it really worth the effort?

The problem is, if we were to refuse our children when they ask for the TV on, or if they can ‘go on the computer’, we wouldn’t see any immediate benefits, and consequently we are more likely to believe it’s not worth the effort of going through the arguments or tantrums that will ensue.

Although we know that setting limits might have a beneficial effect on our children’s health and wellbeing, apparently we don’t see the benefits for 7 months. That’s a hell of a wait for a good night’s sleep, or fewer tantrums especially when it is so easy just to click on that box and then head off upstairs for a well-earned snooze.

Reading around this subject a little, I discovered something slightly disturbing, a paper,  ‘How healthy behaviour supports children’s wellbeing’, which identifies a link between children’s screen time and lower lower levels of wellbeing, showing that:

  • higher levels of TV viewing are having a negative effect on children’s self-worth, they have lower self-esteem and lower levels of self-reported happiness
  • children who spend more time on computers, watching TV and playing video games tend to experience higher levels of emotional distress, anxiety and depression

The American Association of Pediatrics recommends no more than one to two hours of screen time a day (the negative impacts start after two hours’ viewing time) for children two years and older, and none for those younger than two. But in reality many homes far exceed these guidelines with some children watching four hours or more a day. Although some studies show that on average children watch up to 40 hours per week, not counting additional screen time at school.

The researchers don’t suggest we mothers stop screen time altogether, a relief to myself and many other mums who reach the end of their tether at around 4.30 in the afternoon, but just that we find a healthy balance.