New Year’s’ resolutions are a great way to spend quality time as a family, achieve some goals, and support your child’s language and executive functioning skills. This year, consider a resolution that could benefit any family:
Resolve to REDUCE SCREEN TIME!
This year, a number of new studies were published, including a study by the National Institute of Health, which show that children who spend more than 2 hours a day on an electronic device score lower cognitive and linguistic assessments.
Research also shows that screen time impacted memory, impulse control, and attention. In fact, researchers suggest that children between 2-11 should not spend more than 1 hour per day on a screen, and children under 2 should use no screens at all!
As a speech-language therapist, I have seen first-hand the effect that too much screen time has on language and social development. Children who arrive to speech on an iPad and leave the speech room searching for an iPad tend to have lower expressive language, pretend play skills, problem solving skills, and attention to work and peers.
For parents whose endless goal is to find ways to improve their children’s lives and support their development, reducing screen time this year is the perfect family resolution. Here are some suggestions on how to do it.
Allow only certain times of the day during which your child can be on an electronic device. It could be 1 hour after homework, or 1 hour watching a show as a family after dinner. Maybe they earn 1 hour for doing their chores or doing well in school that day. But resolve to reduce your child’s electronic use by creating clear and consistent limitations on how much screen time there can be, and when there should be no screens.
Create screen-free time.
Screen-free time should include: morning routines, meal time, family quality time, and bedtime.
- Morning routines are a time for your child to develop independence. If a child is staring at a screen, it will be very hard for them to focus on what they need to organize in order to leave the house for the day, and instead mom will be left running around to pick up after them. Help them learn to help themselves by making morning routines screen-free time.
- Meals time should also be screen-free time to allow for family conversations, and time for children to reflect on their days. Screens at the table depress a child’s ability to engage with their parents and peers. Regular family meals that include family discussions – and exclude screens – help children develop conversation skills, social attention, story-telling skills, and problem solving skills. Don’t take away this incredibly valuable time by being on your phone or handing your child an iPad.
- Bedtime is also a time when phones and devices should be put away. Electronic devices before bed can make it difficult for children to fall asleep and get the 8-10 hours they need to be ready to learn the next day. Experts even suggest making bedrooms “screen-free zones.”
- Family quality time should, of course, be screen free. While going out for an event without an iPad to distract your child may seem daunting, remember that we all grew up going into public without a screen. This is the most important time for your child to be present, mindful, and engaged with you. When you put the device away, your child can learn to behave in the expected in a variety of social settings without the crutch of an electronic device. And it will allow you to be engaged with each other to create lasting memories that are invaluable in their social emotional development.
Replace bad habits with good ones.
Was your old family routine sitting down with an electronic device for 4 hours after dinner? Well, now that you know what research says, you know it’s time to cut the screen time and replace that bad habit with fun family activities. Luckily, there are many things you and your children can do for fun together, or that they can do on their own. Try to replace 1 hour of screen time with 1 hour of family game time. Or encourage your children to play on their own – with real toys, not electronic ones! Letting your children be bored temporarily, and encouraging them to find a way to entertain themselves, will support their creativity, problem solving, and pretend play skills.
If you are on your phone or computer for 5 hours a night, or all throughout dinner, your child will be too. Reducing screen time is important for the mental health of people of all ages, not just your child. If you are encouraging your child to put their phone away and be more mindful of the world around them, you should too.
Lizzie Gavin a speech-language therapist and the founder of LG Speech Therapy, a private speech therapy practice in New York City. She specializes in treating language, learning, and social communication disorders. You can contact Lizzie through her website, www.lgspeechtherapy.com or her email address: Lizzie@lgspeech.com.