Several research studies have examined how to reduce children’s screen-time. Excessive screen-time has been associated with language delays, aggressive behavior, sleep problems, symptoms of inattention and links to obesity. The links to obesity are typically the most alarming, in terms of a public health matter. Screen-time is the number one sedentary behavior of children and many studies have attempted to reduce children’s sedentary behavior. One way would be to reduce their screen-time, in hopes that it would naturally be replaced with more activity.
Researchers have undertaken randomized clinical trials (RCTs) in attempts to reduce screen-time and once there are enough RCTs, we can examine their impact as a whole. A recent meta-analysis examined the effect of programs to reduce screen-time on two outcomes: total screen-time and BMI. The results were unimpressive with no significant differences, with one key exception. When they divided the studies by age group, they found significant screen-time reductions in children who experienced a program designed to reduce their screen-time. What age showed the significant difference? Preschoolers. In the studies examined that targeted preschoolers, they reduced their screen-time by an average of almost four hours per week. This is a group that the AAP recommends experience only one hour of screen-time per day.
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It makes perfect sense that preschoolers are the most amenable to change in their screen-habits. Their habits are not yet well-developed. They are more flexible. It might be that if those changes are made sooner, rather than later, it could set them up for a life of more moderate screen-time habits.
This is one of the reasons we suggest remaining screen-free through the early years of life. It allows a child to develop other interests and habits. It allows a child to develop their attention span and ability to tolerate negative emotions. After they are capable of those things, they can learn how to use screens appropriately for work and pleasure, in balance with their other skills and interests.
When do you think is the ideal time to introduce screens? Have you been successful at reducing screen-time at later ages?
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