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Screen-Time Reset

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It’s time to get your child back on track

It’s no surprise to learn that screen time has increased as a result of the pandemic. A UC San Francisco– led study quantified the rise, finding that among 12- and 13-year-olds, recreational screen time has doubled, from an average of 3.8 hours a day before the pandemic to 7.7 hours.

While it’s virtually impossible to cut screen time to zero, reducing the number of hours your child spends in front of a TV, tablet, phone or game console has many benefits. High levels of screen time have been linked to physical and mental health issues, including weight gain, eye strain, depression, anxiety and sleep problems.

Ben Maxwell, MD, interim director of child and adolescent psychiatry at Rady Children’s, says: “There’s educational screen time and there’s video conferencing to stay socially connected with family and friends—then there’s recreational screen time that doesn’t have an inherent positive outcome associated with it, like social media and video games. That’s where a reset is needed. Finding ways to minimize your child’s screen time is incredibly important.”

The underlying issue is that screen time is replacing other important things, like time sleeping or being physically active, so a reset must be two sided—limiting recreational screen time and adding in healthy activities as an alternative. Of course, those activities depend on your child’s age and interests—younger kids are more apt to just go with it, while older kids may take some coaxing—but getting them involved in the arts, sports or even just spending more time with family can be beneficial.

If you have a teenager, tearing them away from their screens might take some negotiation. “It’s all about coming up with alternative activities that are either healthy physically or for their emotional well-being, that they’re interested in being a part of,” Dr. Maxwell says. “It’s not going to change overnight, but any attempt to minimize screen time is really going to be beneficial.”

Published in Healthy Kids Magazine, Spring 2022