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Rediscovering the Joys of Life Outside the Screen

Many preschool-aged children spend four and a half hours or more using a screen each day. (Nadine Doerle/Pixabay)
Many preschool-aged children spend four and a half hours or more using a screen each day. (Nadine Doerle/Pixabay)
April 30, 2018

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Spending time without phones, tablets, televisions and video games may be challenging, but experts say it's an endeavor worth pursuing.

April 30-May 6 is Screen-Free Week, an annual event encouraging families to rediscover life outside the digital world. Not only is too much screen time linked to obesity and sleep disturbances among children, pediatrician Dr. Richard So with the Cleveland Clinic explained it also can cause hyperactivity, emotional and behavioral problems, and difficulty with peers.

"With all the media time that's going on, there is a lack of socialization between the kids,” So said. “And I think a lot of the mood disorders that we're seeing these days - anxiety, depression - is because kids don't know how to interact, because they're on their screens too much."

He noted that screen time for children under the age of three also is linked to language delays. While experts suggest no more than two hours a day of screen time, preschool children spend more than four and a half hours a day in front of a screen, and for older kids it's seven-plus hours.

Jean Rogers, screen time program manager with the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, said it's understandable that parents are busy and may find it difficult to control the amount of time their child is on a screen.

"We don't want parents to feel judged; that's the last thing. There's so many things to worry about when you're a parent and that's why it's about just about reducing,” Rogers said. “We know that parents need it to pay bills, they need it for work, we know kids need it for school. But it's about taking that break and feeling what that's like."

Beyond just telling kids to "go outside and play," Rogers recommended parents find activities that can be enjoyed as a family. Ideas include taking a hike, playing board games, visiting local museums, volunteering, reading together or planting a garden.

And Dr. So suggests parents establish guidelines for when Screen-Free Week ends.

"There should be no electronics at the dinner table. You should have screen-free times; maybe it's half an hour before dinner, half an hour after dinner and definitely 100 percent before bedtime,” So said. “With your teenagers, it's the largest problem of insomnia in kids is due to their phones. They don't need their phones at bedtime."

Researchers say kids who spend less time watching television when they are young have a healthier diet, are more physically active, and tend to do better in school.

Reporting by Ohio News Connection in association with Media in the Public Interest and funded in part by the George Gund Foundation.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH