Managing Screen Time and Technology Use of Children

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In recent years, the time children spend on technology has dramatically increased. Yet, managing this time has become one of the biggest challenges for parents and teachers. And children are losing out on the real-world experiences and the exercise needed for healthy development. Excessive usage of digital technologies – computers, TV, and video games – has been linked to seven key risks, reports a UK study published in the open access. The research project on the impact of technology use on children was conducted by a team of UK and international researchers, led by a team at the Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford. The project had tried to dig into the impact of digital technology on different aspects of children’s life, that is physical activity, emotional well-being, sleep, and diet. Also, the government’s new healthy strategy for research and action plan has already pointed out that polling found that six teens in every 10 reported that their self-esteem is affected by online criticism. It identifies that cyberbullying is turning many to self-harming. As the health and social effects of this kind of digital lifestyle are an emerging area of research, the outcomes of the study would provide data and evidence to further inform parents, teachers, policymakers, and industry working in children’s digital/online security and well-being. The plan is an interesting plan and it lists a screen time guidance for all age groups, from early years to teenage. It would be very important to understand the contents of this plan if progress.

Importance of managing screen time

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (2015) states that parents playing a key role in teaching their children healthy screen media habits is paramount. From a young age, children require digital boundaries and limitations in the same way they do with food and drink. Valid and reliable research identifies three main reasons for the regulation of screen time in the growth and development of children. Firstly, excessive internet and social media use has been found to lead to sleep disturbances, as well as less leisure and adequate physical activity time and more psychological difficulties. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (2015) found that in a sample of 106,000 12 to 15-year-olds, 31% experienced difficulties sleeping when they had access to a tablet or games console in their bedroom – demonstrating the impact that technology has on the physical well-being of a child. Secondly, it can be seen that high media use reduces the parent-child interactions which are crucial in the young person’s development. Interactive activities such as playtime with a parent and screen-free zones such as the meal table and bedrooms with no technology are vital in establishing affectionate and secure attachments as well as cognitive and social development. Lastly, it is argued that the lack of regulated leisure screen time can hinder the education and learning of a child. Some studies have found that too much screen time has led to attention deficits, poorer cognitive function, decreased verbal memory, and deteriorated language development, particularly in the preschool stages. No more than 2 hours in one day is the recommended screen time allowance for children aged 5-18 by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (2015). However, it is also noted that parents must be mindful of the content their child is exposed to. Fun animated films and educational games should be prioritized and varied throughout the week. Cultivating a digital environment of inclusivity, learning, and discovery can set children on the path to becoming discerning and confident media users for later life.

Impact of excessive technology use on children

From several studies and observations, it is suggested that children’s brains are being altered and modified by regular exposure to screen technology. In a published study in JAMA Pediatrics, brain scans performed on children who spent more than seven hours a day on screens found a premature thinning of the brain cortex, the outer layer that processes information from the physical world. This discovery of the thinning of the cortex is the same pattern of brain alteration found in mental conditions such as OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Dr. Tim Smith of Birkbeck, University of London, who carried out the research stated that “children who spend more time on screens show a pattern of thinning of the cortex that is characteristic of the sort of thing you see in children with more problematic behaviors”. The beliefs of researchers are verified by psychotherapists from The Sapientia Counselling Services in the UK who have reported a rise in the number of children displaying problematic and addictive behaviors resulting from gaming and overuse of technology in the last 5-10 years and that “home life, brain development and social interactions are negatively affected” from prolonged screen time. The negative impact of excessive technology use is not limited to cognitive and brain function. Withdrawal symptoms associated with discontinuing or reducing screen time and prolonged and excessive screen use has been linked to delays in development causing issues such as impatience, depression, anxiety as well as psychoticism. Furthermore, visual problems and myopia which is a condition that arises when the eyes are in “lockdown” focus on close objects and their shape becomes more egg-shaped, resulting in the eye’s ability to focus on long distance being deteriorated. In conclusion, the impact of excessive technology use can manifest in a diverse range of problems that are not only limited to mental and physical health issues, but can have a significant impact on a child’s personality and social development. It is now more important than ever for parents and carers to be aware of the consequences of unmonitored screen time and to take actions in order to help children strike a healthier life-technology balance.

Setting limits and boundaries

Parents should pay attention to the amount of time kids spend in front of the screens. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents set up limits for using media and make sure its use does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity, and other behaviors essential to health. According to a survey conducted by the American Heart Association and the National Recreation and Park Association, nearly one-third of parents use technology to make their lives easier – but it may be at the peril of their movement and play in children’s lives. For example, even among those who say their kids are active, 66 percent of those parents indicated their kids use technology for three or more hours a day. Also, 64 percent of parents reported that their children play outside for one hour or less a day. And 46 percent of all surveyed children have three or more hours of screen time per day. It is noteworthy that the negative impacts of media on children’s physical and mental health are multifaceted. These could be: poor academic performance, aggressiveness, obesity, irregular sleep habits, impaired socialization, and less time for play. Physical boundaries about where and when media may be consumed should be established. Television and other forms of media should not be allowed in a child’s bedroom. This may be easier to establish if there is a family room or a specific area of the home where a single television is located. Computers should be in visible and commonly used areas of the homes. The parents should delineate media-free times, such as dinner or driving, as well as media-free locations in kids’ environments, such as bedrooms. It is notable that if the parents follow the principal that no screen time may be best it is necessary to blend measurements with the quality of media content. For example, instead of focusing on the potential harms of screen time, parents and children should be encouraged to find the right balance of media usage that will suit each individual family. This means that for parents who are dually engaged in using screen time to better organize their lives and enhance the productivity of their children, it is meaningful to guide the children to understand how they could efficiently use media and technology instead of an outright deletion. Also, educated choices about media could be taught as a skill that will be highly valued in their own personal, academic, and work life. However, abusing media may be something that the children resort to when they are feeling bored or unhappy. This offers an optimal chance for parents to engage in play or other relational activities because bored children may in turn stimulate innovative use of space and opportunities for movement, or the healthy processes of sharing emotions through words or creativity. In most cases, it is beneficial to start reducing media use in a gradual manner. As such, a replacement of screen time with other activities can be assisted by helping the children find real pleasure in these alternatives. Also, parents might be challenged to offer their own participation in these alternatives and consider what it might mean to their own relationships and life. Both research and facts support the argument that reducing children’s screen time can lead to less exposure to violent or aggressive behaviors and decrease the risk of obesity. For example, parental involvement in the children’s media usage can help to improve learning and prevent the negative impacts. It is noted that children do benefit from media when it is aligned with a learning outcome, especially when parents are involved. This means that parents should encourage and train the kids in positive use of the media, rather than strictly enforcing limits.

Establishing daily screen time limits

Setting daily screen time limits is an effective strategy to manage children’s use of technology. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents prioritize creative, unplugged playtime for infants and toddlers. For children aged two to five, screen time should be limited to one hour per day of high-quality programming, which should be co-viewed by parents to help children understand what they are seeing. For children over the age of six, the academy advises that parents place consistent limits on screen time and types of media, ensuring that screen time does not replace adequate sleep, physical activity, and other behaviors essential to health. It is important for parents to set and enforce this daily screen time limit in terms of the total amount of time in front of the screen, the specific time when children are allowed to use technology, and the time period children are not allowed to use technology, especially one hour before bedtime. Parents may also determine and set different amounts of time for weekdays, weekends, and holidays based on the real-life schedules of children. It is crucial for parents to clearly communicate these rules to children and babysitters who may take care of the children. Furthermore, parents need to lead by example and adhere to their own rules on the use of technology in order to effectively enforce the daily screen time limit for children. Such family efforts can create a consistent and supportive family environment to help children learn about the value of various activities, like studying, playing, and socializing, over the use of technology. Last but not least, parents should use built-in parental controls and other technological means, which will be discussed in the following sections, to help restrict children’s screen time. By ensuring that the screen time limits are implemented, parents can help children avoid the risks of developing technology addiction and other negative consequences of excessive use of technology.

Creating technology-free zones

Finally, try to use the technology-free zone as a space for positive family interaction. If you have young children, try to use it as an opportunity to read books or play games together. For older children, it can be a great chance to practice open communication and really bond as a family. By creating a positive environment in these areas, your child will be more likely to enjoy spending time there. This in turn will create a more relaxed atmosphere for you and your child, helping to nurture your relationship. Once the rules on screen time and technology are established, they can be really beneficial for both well-being and maintaining a healthy lifestyle for the whole family.

You can get your child involved in the process of making the zones too. For example, ask your child to think of a list of activities that they could do in a technology-free area and put it up on the wall. This helps them to see the types of alternative activities that they could be doing and also gives them a sense of ownership over the decision. Also, thinking about what activities are appropriate in each area can help your child to understand how different activities can be seen as acceptable in different parts of the home. For example, quiet reading might be a good activity in a technology-free bedroom whereas noisy games might be to item to the game in the living room.

Firstly, it is important to model the behavior that you want your child to adopt. If your child sees you regularly using devices in the ‘technology-free’ zones then they are less likely to take this rule seriously. Try to be disciplined with your own use of technology and reserve screen time for particular areas of the home, such as the living room. This also means that you can really enjoy quality family time together in the ‘no device’ zones.

Setting technology-free zones in the home can be a great way to help your child understand the importance of a healthy balance between screen time and other activities.

Encouraging outdoor activities and hobbies

Encouraging outdoor activities and hobbies is an efficient way to reduce screen time and exposure to digital technology. Outdoor activities such as playing in the park, hiking, and cycling not only offer children a breath of fresh air and physical exercise, but also provide them with a chance to appreciate the nature and the environment around them. This is especially important in a modern world where children are getting less and less opportunity to experience the natural world. By incorporating outdoor activities into a child’s daily routine, it helps to establish a healthy lifestyle and promote a positive attitude towards physical activities from a young age. On the other hand, hobbies such as painting, playing a musical instrument, or joining a sports club also serve as great alternatives to screen time. Not only can children learn and develop new skills, but hobbies also bring a sense of enjoyment and achievement into their lives. Most importantly, parents and carers should lead by example and participate in outdoor activities and hobbies with their children. This offers a fantastic opportunity for families to bond and reinforces positive family values, and children are less likely to think about screen time.

Monitoring and supervision

Parents are advised to monitor and supervise their children’s online activities to ensure their online safety. Research indicates that active mediation by parents, which refers to the act of actively taking a role through the use of technological tools that help to monitor or limit access to harmful content, is associated with the most positive outcomes for children. Active mediation can be done in a number of ways, such as using technical tools like routers with parental controls and devices with child accounts that can be tailored to allow only age-appropriate content. Parents can also utilize monitoring and filtering tools provided by internet service providers, gaming and search engine platforms, or even the Internet Watch Foundation to block access to harmful materials. Moreover, the latest development of technology has created a demand for the production of more advanced parental control products. Some of the solutions are location-aware and can provide parents with knowledge about where their children are, what type of digital activity they are engaging in, and with whom they are sharing the online environment. This added layer of information can be useful for parents in deciding the level of monitoring and supervision they should implement throughout the day. There are also products that allow parents to manage in real-time, such as the ability to introduce a ‘screen lock’ and instantly pause all internet connections on children’s devices. On the other hand, there also exist other difficulties and challenges for parents to actively monitor and supervise their children’s online activities. For instance, as children are getting more technically competent, they may find ways to bypass any controls or visit places where parents may not have direct control. Plus, oftentimes parents may not be able to fully understand the digital environments their children are growing up in, thus creating a sense of knowledge gap and powerlessness. Flipped classrooms and remote school education, a result of today’s technology advancement, have made children reliant on digital materials for learning. Hence, the difficulty in striking a good balance between maintaining children’s exposure to the digital world and assuring their online safety becomes more apparent. Various alternatives to active mediation, such as technical solution trails and digital evidence research, are also being explored by researchers and practitioners with the hope to provide parents with more feasible and effective options when monitoring and supervising children’s digital activities.

Using parental control features and apps

It is also important to note that parental controls are not a one-stop solution for managing children’s online safety and security, but should be part of a wider conversation and ongoing monitoring of a child’s internet usage and experiences. Dr. Sarah Domoff also suggests that parents should be mindful about the context in which technology is used in the family, and particularly, parents should be taking time to engage in quality interactions with their child, which will promote a more active online supervision and provide opportunities for the family to grow and develop together.

In the same way, a piece of advice from Dr. Sarah Domoff, an expert in child development and early childhood and director of the Family Health Lab at Central Michigan University, is to engage with children about family rules and expectations concerning digital use. This may be achieved by having an open family discussion, and then openly and collaboratively developing digital media use plans that are tailored to all members of the family, taking into consideration children’s individual digital wellbeing and developmental needs as well as parents’ needs.

By promoting that parents and guardians should establish a family agreement and talk to children about what controls are in place and why, and check and adjust controls often as a child grows and works through different developmental stages, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry highlights the importance of education alongside the use of parental controls. This ties in with another recommended strategy from the Academy to teach children about common online risks and how to avoid them. Such knowledge and skills derived from education will stay with the child as they grow, serving to protect them in their soon-to-come independent internet use.

On games consoles such as the Xbox, which usually comes with a platform called “Xbox Family Settings”, parents are able to manage what and how children play, set screen time limitations and check on their children’s activities through the app. Such apps allow parents to remotely adjust the settings in place, which is useful if a parent is told by the child that a particular restriction is too tight and wants to check themselves if that is the case.

On Android, parents are able to manage their Google Account and what is accessible to their child if a child is under 13, through Google online activity, and have the ability to lock the child’s device when they feel it is necessary or the child has been using their device when they were told not to.

There are three main types of parental controls: 1) those that are controlled and operated on an online device, 2) those that are physically installed on the device, and 3) those that are controlled through the Internet. On iPhone, parents can use the Apple settings to set up the device itself with a security code, and can then set family sharing up and assign themselves as the organizer and their child as a child’s account. Through this, parents can add screen time limits and set the phone so that during specific times – like at night – the phone is only able to make emergency calls.

For example, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry recommends that younger children should use software-based Internet filters, which help to protect computers and regulate internet usage, whereas older children and teenagers should be given more freedom, while parents maintain the ability to monitor online activities and communicate with children about their interests and online experiences.

Parental controls refer to a wide range of software and tools that can be used to monitor and manage a child’s online activity. Some of the current parental control options include content filters, which can be used to restrict access to age inappropriate content; usage controls, allowing parents to set time limits; and monitoring software, which can track a child’s online activities. Digital parenting experts recommend various parental control solutions, depending on a child’s age, the level of cybersecurity desired, and what type of digital devices they use.

Regularly checking browsing history and app usage

By regularly checking the browsing history and app usage on your child’s device, you can have a better understanding of the websites they have visited and the amount of time they spend on each app. If you notice that certain apps are being used for a long time or that your child is visiting inappropriate websites, it can be a good opportunity to talk to them about what they have been doing and what you have found. Dr. Angharad Rudkin, a Clinical Psychologist specializing in children, explained that parents should seek to have open discussions with their child and use what they have found in their discussions e.g., “I have noticed you have spent a long time playing x, how did you find that?” This will encourage a collaborative approach as well as providing an opportunity to educate their child(ren) about online safety. Checking the browsing history and app usage are usually simple to do and are explained in the online guides for each type of device. Also, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) recommended that parents should familiarize themselves with the Parental Controls for both the home internet and any devices that use public internet, as these can provide another layer of oversight and protection. By checking the website history on your home computer or using the “recently visited” and “most visited” tabs on browsers such as Google Chrome or Safari, you can find out the sites which have been visited and how often. The browsing history will show the sites that have been visited daily so you can build up an understanding of when your child has been online and from that, the length of time they have spent surfing the web. On the other hand, checking the browsing history on a tablet is usually quick and simple as there is likely to be a shortcut to open the internet, e.g., a commonly used browser such as Safari. By pressing the “bookmarks” icon, a “show all history” option will be available to click and review the history. However, for maximum impact and a better oversight of what your child is looking at online, many devices now have the option to use “browsing parent setting” which allows a report to be generated and sent at a specified date and time to an email. The report will give details on what sites have been visited, how often and the amount of time spent on each site. This report will not show all of the content on these websites – only the websites that have been visited and for how long. In regards to app usage, most devices have a “screen time” or a “digital wellbeing” section within the settings which will break down how long a device has been used for each day. By going into individual apps, it can show how long each app has been running so there is an oversight on what your child has been doing. Furthermore, a usage report gained from browsing history or app usage checks can be useful evidence for schools or clubs if there are any issues with cyberbullying or inappropriate websites. By keeping the report, Dr. Angharad Rudkin suggested that parents are able to show that they are proactive and can provide dates, times and the websites visited which will help schools and clubs to follow up.

Engaging in open communication with children

Last but not least, parents are advised that in case they have decided to install any software or services on the family computer, do remember that they may be encountered offers to receive information and updating their latest family services. Always remember to select to receive these notifications, if any, so that the terms and usage of the services are kept up to date. By learning important concepts about online safety and applying them in everyday life, parents could play a leadership role in bringing the concept to their children. Whenever a child is unsure about…

On a general note, parents are advised to be vigilant and always exercise discretion on children’s online privacy, remind them if they are to give out their address or information about the family, and ensure the children understand the potential consequences of sending personal information over the internet. Also, schools and different versions of internet browsers nowadays are distributing more and more educational software and applications. While most of these programs are designed to be helpful to the children’s learning progress, however, it is equally crucial for parents to review and understand what kind of personal information is being gathered and shared.

Open chat and discussion with the children, ideally should be online family tasks and parents should feel free to be candid about their views and experiences. Additionally, parents are reminded to create a safe cyber world for their family by making use of the numerous safety features like firewalls and security suite for instance, to help protect the family’s privacy and their computers. This helps to block pop-up ads and manage the web contents that are accessible, limiting the possibility of children accidentally visiting and compromising computers with malicious software. Parents could also make use of the functions available in web browsers and third-party services that allow the security settings to be customized and prevent children from unblocking certain controls.

In helping children to think about online safety and what it means in their day-to-day life, parents could use everyday tasks and activities as a starting point for open discussion on being safe online. For example, parents may want to try discussing these 4 critical questions as a family on a regular basis when the children are old enough to be online. First of all, we have to make known to the children that in most countries, using the internet can be very much like shouting out about the questions around those 4 questions in a busy public place. Whenever we go online, we are making choices about what kind of information we might give out, who might see it and thinking about how permanent that information might be. Either of these information might be, as personal information disclosed during online communication or otherwise, is open to collecting personal information from the children, it is generally advisable for parents to seek verifiable consent from the children and appropriate security measures such as protection of the collected information from unauthorized third parties.

Children appreciate when they are guided instead of being punished. Parents are advised to have sit down talks with their children in order to explain why it is important to be safe while using technology, and the potential dangers of not doing so. By listening to their children’s views and making them understand that their opinion matters, children will be more open to share their online experience with their parents. Encouraging children to communicate their online experience also means parents will be able to have a better sense of what their kids are doing and avoid any potential dangers.

Educating children about online safety

On the other hand, in order to protect children from possible online risks, adults should educate them about digital dangers and online safety. Although the use of parental controls and filters can help to minimize the risk of children and young people seeing harmful content, such as pornography, adult material or violence, it is equally important to educate children about the reasons for the controls and what they can do to stay safe online. With the growth of the Internet industry, the range of online services and opportunities continues to expand. It is essential to help children and young people have the confidence and skills to navigate this fast-moving landscape and ensure they can get the most out of it safely and securely. Parents, teachers, and children should work together to enhance children’s safety in the digital world. Therefore, it is important for adults to talk to children and young people about their online lives, just as they would about their day in general. By keeping an open and honest conversation, adults may better understand the digital world and recognize when children may be at risk and respond appropriately. Also, by discussing possible online risks and justifying the use of parental controls and filters, children will have stronger awareness and better ability to recognize potential dangers and risks online, even as the protection level the parental controls and filters given could change with their ages. To educate children about online safety is not to scare them away from the Internet and the resources it provides. Creative work like teaching children how to stay safe online can fit into various aspects of the curriculum and support skill development in other areas, such as critical thinking, research, and even literacy and numeracy. Adults need to be careful in terms of the portrayals of some of the horrors of the Internet and not present the Information Age as a place where there are more dangers for children and young people than in other environments. Even though parents may have concerns over what their children and young people encounter on the Internet, adults should encourage children to use these resources to enhance their learning and give them the chance to learn from early experiences in a managed environment.

Promoting healthy alternatives

Instead of simply setting limits and boundaries and countering children’s technology use with formal educational activities only, promoting healthy means encouraging not only the physical well-being, but also the well-being of their minds and their ability to learn in various ways. Striking a balance between technology use and other activities is important. This means parents should have their children engage in both educational and leisure pursuits. For instance, children should be encouraged to engage in an outdoor activity, whether it is playing a sport or going for a walk, and then be allowed to play with technology as a reward. In this way, children still get to benefit from the use of technology without it becoming the sole focus of their free time. Similarly, bedtime activities that form part of a consistent routine can provide opportunities for relaxation and knowledge sharing between parents and children, whether it be through reading, quiet play, or just winding down. However, ensure that children do not use such activities as a way of having extra time with technology or avoiding going to bed. Also, in promoting healthy alternatives and outlining various strategies to help children and families disconnect from technology, involve the whole family in researching and deciding which alternative is suitable and what should be downloaded. Browsable items that sit on the bottom of the screen and require a family member to navigate by clicking can take an important place in the use of technology, as parents can limit and guide use, ensuring that children use technology as a means of exercising both their mind and body.

Encouraging reading and educational activities

There is strong evidence that children who read for pleasure daily perform better in reading and writing tasks. Furthermore, reading can be combined with other activities and educational media, enhancing its impact. A good approach to encouraging reading is to make sure that there are lots of reading materials such as books, magazines, and suitable websites in the home. In addition to this, providing children with opportunities to use and become familiar with digital media is also highly useful for education and development. For example, displaying different materials to be read around the house can make it easier for children to develop the habit of reading printed and digital materials as part of their everyday lives. The use of digital media can support and extend learning in many areas and at most times throughout the day. It is used widely to improve skills and knowledge and to support creative processes. By using technology that they are either familiar with or forced to keep up with, children are able to use a variety of digital and technological resources to support learning in different ways, both inside and outside of school. Finally, a really powerful motivator for children is for them to see adults reading and, perhaps, talking about what they have been reading. Listening to children read and discussing a wide range of reading, including digital media, is key to developing their understanding. It is really helpful to know when and where children have access to digital media and any reading that they may do on a digital device. This will help support the development of good practices when it comes to the use of technology. So, trying to encourage children to think about the decisions that they make about using digital media will also be a key part of helping them to understand the opportunities and risks that it can bring to help make the most of these experiences. However, it is also important that children experience ‘unplugged’ reading and learning activities, away from the immersion and distraction that technology can provide. When such activities are fruitful, it’s motivational for the children to share with others and celebrate what they perceive as achievements. These could be digital in nature and this will provide additional occasions for children to have their efforts valued and for adults to celebrate their successes. By doing so, children will be encouraged to apply the skills and knowledge they have gained through digital media to different and more complex tasks. Also, playing games that involve developing knowledge, comprehension, and the ability to search for information can be encouraged and supported by using digital media in conjunction with the rule.

Organizing family activities and quality time

Family activities and quality time are great ways to connect with children and provide them with essential emotional support. Having a strong emotional bond with children is important for their development and well-being. Research has shown that parent-child relationships can predict children’s emotional and social intelligence, while family activities can also help to build a strong communication between family members. It is reported that children who take part in regular family mealtimes and outings have shown less sign of depression and fewer suicidal thoughts. Also, quality time and family activities can be used to replace screen time by introducing and engaging children in different activities. “Quality” is the key in “quality time”. As little as 15-20 minutes of quality time spent with children can make a difference in their emotional well-being. For quality time to take place, the attention should be focused on the child during that period of time. Eye contact is a good indicator of the amount of attention being given to the child. Children usually will not regard time spent watching television as quality time. Time engaged with children in a meaningful conversation or with full attention is considered as quality time. Technology free family activities are very important for changing the screen time habits. Try to set one day a week as “Tech-Free Family Day” and take turns to decide what activities to do. Start initiating your child to plan some of these family activities, get them involved in the planning. Stick to the rule of “Tech-Free”, it does not only apply to children; parents should always be the role model and participate actively as well. For example, parents should not use smartphones or play computer games during the family activities. Instead, use this opportunity to provide more attention to children. There are countless activities that families can do together. It can be cooking, gardening, cycling, going to the parks, visiting elders or have a chit chat at the mamak stores. These family activities will not only build family bonds and memories, but also provide an opportunities for us to teach children valuable social and life skills. By explaining and giving children the reasons behind the need to reduce screen time will provide them and yourself with a better understanding. This will allow setting rules and discipline to be much easier. For family activities to be meaningful, it is important to deliberately plan and create opportunities for quality time. Time should be set aside in advance and children should be made to understand the importance of family activities and family bonding.

Engaging in physical exercise and sports

To help distract children from the screens, a variety of physical activities and sports should be recommended and introduced to children from an early age, together with parents taking part in the activities as well, ensuring to set a good example for their kids to follow. Various sorts of activities can be conducted based on different occasions and situations, which can be classified into indoor activities, outdoor activities, and so-called relaxation activities. For example, parents can supervise their children playing outdoors, such as going on a nature walk and planning future physically active family time – cycling. For indoor activities, these will be ideal as part of a birthday party or get-together among children – have parents plan an outing for kids to go roller skating or play a good old favorite game – “Musical Chairs”. On the other hand, winding and relaxing exercises can be performed as a family group, such as parents and kids doing yoga or even just simple stretching in front of the television.

The World Health Organization (2019) recommends that children and youth aged 5-17 should accumulate at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous-intensity physical activity daily. These include activities such as walking, dancing, playing, swimming, cycling, skating, and activities needed to help muscle and bone growth – jumping, running, twisting, and resistance movements. “In addition to promoting biological growth and preventing obesity, physical activity also has a positive impact on mental health in children, especially those with or at risk for developing mental health problems such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism, and anxiety. Studies have shown that when children engage in physical activities, it stimulates various brain chemicals that would eventually help improve mood and sleep, and protect them against mental disorders and cognitive decline as they grow older,” according to the article “The Exercise Effect” published on the American Psychological Association’s website.

Moreover, Dr. L. Read has found that children who spend significant time in front of a screen have less energy and expend fewer calories, raising the risks of developing life-shortening conditions such as heart disease and diabetes. Thus, it’s crucial to ensure that children balance their screen time with physical activities such as a variety of exercises and sports, which would not only distract them from the screens but also help them stay healthy and build social skills.

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