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How to limit your kids' screen time

By
WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

Count up the screens in your home. If you tot up the TVs, computers, laptops, tablets, music and video players, games consoles and mobiles, that could well run into double figures.

School age children have grown up with this phenomenon. British teenagers are clocking up an estimated six hours of screen time a day, according to Dr Aric Sigman, a leading child psychologist.

If you are concerned that your child is always transfixed by one screen or another, it may be time to bring in limits.

Dr Sigman estimated that by the age of seven, a child born today will have spent one full year of 24 hour days watching screens, rising to three full years by the time he or she is 18.

So what’s the problem with screen-time?

TVs, computers and the Internet are a fundamental part of life. We learn so much about the world through them. Games consoles are exciting and provide great entertainment for our kids. Social media opens up the world and has changed the way we communicate.

It’s the time spent on them that may be the problem.

There are reasons for parents to be concerned. Research has suggested that struggling at school, attention problems, sleep disorders and obesity can all be linked with excessive media time.

A study of 1,000 children aged around 10 by the University of Bristol in 2010 suggested that children who spend more than two hours a day in front of a computer or TV are more likely to suffer psychological difficulties than other youngsters.

It recommended a sensible guideline of no more than two hours' screen time each day.

Dr Sigman quotes a number of studies in this area which link prolonged screen time and ill health, including increased risks of markers for heart disease, stroke and diabetes, as well as other biological effects associated with being sedentary that exercise does not seem to reverse.

Health and wellbeing consultant Liz Tucker says: "From a physical health perspective there are many studies on the negative health aspects of sitting in the same position all day with limited activity and little personal interaction."

In a leading article in Archives of Disease in Childhood, Dr Sigman suggested that politicians and the medical profession need to set clear guidelines for how much screen time young children are exposed to.

Here are some tips for cutting back on screen time:

1. Keep a child’s room screen free

Having a TV in your child’s room encourages viewing as a matter of course. They may switch on the TV as habit and may indulge in late night viewing.

Keep TVs in a central location like the living room so you can better monitor what they watch and the time they spend watching.

It’s tricky with a computer, as most children use them for homework. If it’s a laptop make sure it’s removed from the room at night so your child isn’t tempted to log on. Similarly if you can, keep games consoles out of bedrooms.

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