As spring break stretches on, parents might find their kids are spending more time watching TV, using a tablet or playing on a smartphone - when school's out and parents have to find a way to fill the day, "screen time" often increases.
Although parents might know that too much screen time is generally seen as a bad thing, it can be easy to overlook considering the many positive aspects of technology. For example educational TV shows and games, connecting with friends through social media, gay or otherwise marginalised kids finding information and community or simply learning about the world are all positive ways that technology can have a positive impact.
But did you know that some studies have linked excess screen time to worsening mental health in children and teens? And that a recent Canadian study showed a link between kids having TVs in their bedrooms and mental health issues in childhood and onwards?
So what do parents need to know about the potential negative impacts of too much screen time and how can they find the right balance between the good and the bad?
Although screen time itself is not always a bad thing, it can take away from important activities such as reading, school work, playing, exercise, family interaction, and socialising in person. All of these things have the potential to make a more positive contribution to mental health and wellbeing than screen time alone.
Children who have unsupervised screen time, such as having a TV in their bedroom can see or experience things that may be harmful, inappropriate or incorrect. Social media also plays a big role in teen culture today with surveys showing that ninety percent of teens ages 13-17 have used social media, but too much unsupervised time on social media can also pose a risk.
Violence, sex, race and gender stereotypes and drug and alcohol abuse are all common themes online. Without supervision or a responsible adult's involvement, younger children especially may assume that what they see on their screens is typical, safe, and acceptable.
One of the best ways to prevent is by paying attention to what your kids are doing and trying to incorporate screens and technology into family life in a positive way by choosing content that meet the developmental needs of your child. For example, children's video programming on public TV and other educational websites are appropriate, but soap operas, adult sitcoms, and adult talk shows are not.
Don't allow children have long blocks of unsupervised screen time or have screens in bedrooms. Keep the TV, smartphone and internet use to common areas, particularly for younger kids.
Studies also show that using digital media at night can interfere with sleep quality, so consider restricting the use of phones, tablets and computers for at least 30 minutes before bed, and be sure to lead by example.
Most importantly – you should try and shift the focus towards increasing more non-screen activities. It's generally fine for your kid to watch TV for an hour or safely use the internet if they also regularly go outside and play, exercise, socialise face to face with friends and family or enjoy non-screen toys and games.
If you're looking for further information and support you can check out Here to Help BC, which has an online guide for parents.