How to keep your child from becoming a media-addicted zombie

October 12, 2015 | by Sivakami Krishnan, MD

At the end of a long day, when you’re trying to get dinner on the table, finish up some work or handle other household chores, how easy is it to hand a whiny child a tablet loaded with games? Or flip on the television?

That tactic will quiet and distract most kids for hours. Unfortunately, it also hurts your child.

It’s hard to fight the pull of electronics. Television, internet, video games, smart phones — they all beckon our kids with fun, connection to friends, and new (often dangerous) territory to explore.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has found that children spend an average of seven hours each day staring at screens, including television, computers, phones and tablets.

Studies show that too much media use can lead to attention problems, difficulty in school, sleep disruption, eating disorders and obesity, the academy reports. Phones also make it easy for kids to get involved in sexual or bullying behavior.

The addictive influence smartphone apps have on children has become so prevalent that two Apple shareholders have asked the company to add age-appropriate software and other safeguards to help parents manage their kids' screen time and Internet exposure.

Try these ground rules for screen use, and watch your kids bloom:

  • Offer non-electronic entertainment – old-fashioned stuff, like books, newspapers and board games. Read with your kids or play a game with them.
  • When your child is watching something on a screen, find out what it is. Make sure games, videos and movies are age-appropriate.
  • Do NOT put a television or video game system in your child’s bedroom.
  • Turn the TV off and put smartphones away during dinner and family time.
  • Create no-screen zones. Make screens off-limits in bedrooms and bathrooms.
  • Limit screen time to two hours per day. That includes television, computers, tablets and smartphones. Instead, suggest kids play outside, hit the library for a new book to read, write and perform a play, learn to juggle or try out a new hobby.
  • Don’t show kids under age 2 any screens, including television. Children’s brains undergo fast-paced development in those first years and interacting with people is how they learn best.

Dr. Sivakami Krishnan, MD, is a family medicine physician at Elmhurst Memorial Elmhurst Clinic.

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