How Much Screen Time is Unhealthy (For Both You and Your Child)?

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Between remote learning, streaming entertainment, and Zooming with family and friends, we’re spending more time than ever with our faces glued to screens.

While, on one hand, it’s awesome that technology means you can find just about any educational resource and form of entertainment online, and it’s easier than ever to form communities with like-minded individuals anywhere in the world… it’s also a bit concerning that we’re spending more and more time with butts in chairs and screens in faces.

So how much is too much? Do the limits differ for your child? How can you make sure both you and the kids are getting enough time away from the computer, phone, TV and tablet? Let’s take a look.

How much screen time is too much for children?

Researchers for a 2017 study found that children’s mental wellbeing fluctuated with the amount of screen time enjoyed over the course of the day, and that not all screen time is equal. The study found that, in certain amounts, screen time was beneficial for children, but after a certain time limit was reached, those benefits declined and the screen time started to negatively impact kids’ mental health.

During the weekdays specifically, the study found that children benefitted from video game play up to 1 hr and 40 minutes per day; from smartphone use up to 1 hr and 57 minutes per day; from watching television or videos up to 3 hours and 41 minutes per day; and from general computer use up to 4 hours and 17 minutes per day. The time limits were greater over the weekend, indicating that more screen time on Saturdays and Sundays wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.

However, even with these data-derived time limits, the researchers still made note that the impacts on mental health weren’t that substantial. Other daily life factors that impacted mental health more than amount of screen time per day included things like getting enough sleep and eating breakfast regularly.

So, in other words, while you, as a parent, don’t want to allow an exorbitant amount of screen time and you want to ensure your child is still getting plenty of exercise and social time, there are larger factors in their lives that you could probably focus on.

How much screen time is too much for mom?

When it comes to adults, researchers find that measuring your screen time by hours and minutes is a little unhelpful. After all, you probably spend 8 hours per day on just your work computer. That’s not even including the scrolling Instagram on your lunch break or while dinner’s cooking, or watching your fav reality TV shows in bed.

For adults, experts recommend a healthy balance. Ensure you’re not neglecting other important parts of your life for the sake of the screen, and try to limit screen usage to things that actually help you, not hurt you. If you can’t stop looking at Facebook at the dinner table or your kid’s soccer match, you may have a problem.

How can you make sure everyone gets enough off-screen time?

It’s incredibly easy to allow screen time to completely overtake your life. School, socialization, entertainment — when it’s all at your fingertips via a screen, it’s the simplest option.

But it’s worth the effort to get your family away from the screens and out in the “real” world. Rather than having a family movie night, start up a regular family game night. Instead of challenging your kids to a video game dance-off, challenge them to a race on your nearest bike trail or hiking trail. Instead of watching an educational video on a famous work of art, head to your nearest museum.

While there’s definitely nothing wrong with any of the above screen time, you don’t want every aspect of your life dictated by tech. It’s all about striking a balance.

The one thing you don’t want to do?

The one thing you don’t want to do? Ban tech time completely or make the removal of screen time a punishment for your kids. That’s just teaching them that screen time is a reward and something to try to get more and more of.

Instead, make getting away from the screen fun enough and rewarding enough that they start enjoying it, no coaxing or coddling required.

And the same goes for you, too. Rather than looking at ditching your fav TV at night for a book as a punishment, find non-screen time things that you’re actually really excited about, so it’s an easy switch, rather than a difficult one.

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Holly Riddle is a writer, editor and content manager with experience writing about a large variety of topics, from dietary supplements and hardware startups, to professional development and IIoT. Her two favorites, however, are travel and food. Before becoming a full-time freelancer and entrepreneur, she was the director of content at a publishing firm, overseeing editorial content and dozens of writers for more than 100 publications. She also created high-end marketing and PR campaigns on a regular basis. Previously, she was the assistant editor at a luxury travel magazine, where she still acts as the editor at large. Holly Riddle has been featured on a variety of major websites, including Forbes and Bloomberg.