Planning screen time for children: Tips to keep your child physically and mentally healthy

Children should spend at least 180 minutes every day in a variety of physical activities.

Children should spend at least 180 minutes every day in a variety of physical activities.

What you need to know:

  • According to screen health guidelines from the World Health Organization, children under the age of five should spend less time sitting and looking at screens or restrained in prams and seats.
  • Screen time should be limited to one hour per day for children aged two to five years.
  • By watching specific screen programmes, children can learn positive behaviour, positive social interactions, and positive emotional influences.

The advent of technology has proliferated screen entertainment. Unlike before when children could only watch cartoons on the television, entertainment can now be accessed via other digital means including Internet-enabled devices such as mobile phones and tablets.

“With my firstborn, I was worried about the amount of time he spent watching the television. With my last born twins, I am worried over their obsession with digital gadgets,” says Martha Karambu who is a mother of three. This is the same sentiment that is shared by Hellen Wandera. Ms. Wandera says that if she switches off the television, her kids go for the laptop. If she tells them to turn it off, they want to stream games and cartoons on phones. “The Internet and digital devices are good. But I am afraid they are turning our children into social snobs,” she says. “My children can hardly go to play or engage in a conversation when they start streaming games and cartoons.”

Wandera and Karambu’s fears are not misplaced. There are health risks associated with exposure to various modes of entertainment such as the television, mobile phones, or even the laptop. For instance, according to research on television viewership worldwide by the American Pediatrics Academy, television has the potential to trigger health problems such as attention deficit disorder (ADD), obesity, and even violent behavior.

According to screen health guidelines from the World Health Organization, children under the age of five should spend less time sitting and looking at screens or restrained in prams and seats. They should sleep more and have more time for active play.

These guidelines were developed from a scientific analysis of the effects of time spent watching screens, lack of adequate sleep, and children who are restrained in chairs and prams for lengthy periods. “Improving physical activity, reducing sedentary time and ensuring quality sleep in young children under the age of five years will improve their physical and mental health wellbeing, and help prevent childhood obesity and associated diseases later in life,” Dr. Fiona Bull, the WHO programme manager for surveillance and population-based prevention of non-communicable diseases, said.

In the guidelines, the WHO recommended:

Children aged less than one year

  • They should not be exposed to screen time. The parent is encouraged to tell them stories. This includes reading out baby stories for them.
  • They should be physically active several times a day. This can be done through interactive floor-based play. If the baby is not yet mobile, the parent can lie them in the prone position which is also known as tummy time, for at least 30 minutes in good intervals throughout the day when they are awake.
  • They should not be restrained for more than 1 hour at a time on prams, strollers, high chairs, or strapped on someone’s back.
  • Quality sleep should include 14 to 17 hours for babies aged between 0 to 3 months, 12 to 16 hours for babies aged 4 to 11 months.  This includes naps throughout the day.

Children aged 1 to 2 years:

  • Sedentary screen time such as watching TV or videos, and playing computer games is not recommended for children aged one year.
  • For children aged 2 years, screen time is at a maximum of 1 hour. It is better if the child is exposed to less than one hour of screen time.
  • When the child is sedentary, the parent is encouraged to engage in reading and storytelling with them.
  • Children within this age group should spend at least 180 minutes in a variety of physical activities. This includes moderate-to-vigorous-intensity physical activity, spread throughout the day.
  • This group of children should not be restrained for more than 1 hour at a time on prams, strollers, high chairs, or strapped on someone’s back, or be allowed to sit for extended periods of time. 
  • 11 to 14 hours of good quality sleep, which includes naps and regular sleep and wake-up times is recommended for this age group.

Children aged 3 to 4 years: 

  • Sedentary screen time such as watching TV or videos, and playing computer games should not exceed one hour. It will be better if the child is exposed to less than one hour of screen time.
  • When the child is sedentary, the parent is encouraged to engage in reading and storytelling with them.
  • These children should spend at least 180 minutes in a variety of physical activities at any intensity, of which at least 60 minutes in moderate to vigorous physical activity, spread throughout the day.
  • This group of children should not be restrained for more than 1 hour at a time on prams, strollers, or be let to sit for extended periods of time. 
  • 10 to 13 hours of good quality sleep, which may include a nap, with regular sleep and wake-up times is highly recommended.

These recommendations mirror new guidelines on digital screen time that were issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics. According to the guidelines, screen time should be limited to one hour per day for children aged two to five years. For children six years and over, parents should determine restrictions and the type of shows and games these children watch or interact with. However, infants aged 18 months and younger should not be exposed to any digital media.

How to go about it:

  • Sit down with your kids and look at the weekly programming schedule. Go over a list of shows that are suitable for them based mainly on their ages.
  • Craft a program guide or diary, giving time and date for each show, which your children can refer to.
  • Explain to them that schoolwork is a priority.

Too much screen time has been linked with the risk of

  • Obesity
  • Irregular sleep
  • Behavioural problems
  • Poor academic performance
  • Less playtime
  • Violence

But screen time is not all bad if a parent can find a viewership balance for their child. According to child therapist Samuel Maina, your child can be exposed to educative and socially creative material on the screen. He explains that by watching specific screen programmes, children can learn positive behaviour, positive social interactions, and positive emotional influences.

To achieve this, you may have to set up guidelines that will restrict children to acceptable programs whose content is aligned with their age and level of comprehension.

“This will require you to plan ahead what your child will be viewing so that you don’t flip from channel to channel. Start using parental control settings on your television or laptop,” says Maina. You will also do well to preview movies, video games, and mobile applications to ensure they are safe for your child before allowing them to use them. Modern digital decoders, smart televisions, apps, and computer programmes come enabled with recording abilities. Make use of this feature and record programmess and games in advance. This will allow you to skip commercials that may not be best suited for your child. In addition, Maina says that you can make a habit of watching programmes with your child and discussing any values from the program.

Welcome!

You're all set to enjoy unlimited Prime content.