10 Best Strategies to Stop Your Child's Screen Addiction

A generation ago, your parents worried about how much time you spent in front of the TV. Today, the chances are pretty good that your concern for your children extends beyond how many cartoons they're watching.

“Screen time is not just TV time,” says pediatrician Lolita McDavid, MD. “Screen time is anything electronic your children can access.”

Your children may be using their screen time to text, play video games, watch TV shows and movies, and visit websites, chat rooms and social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube.

Plugged In

Consider these statistics:

  • The average 8- to 10-year-old spends nearly eight hours a day on various media
  • The average teenager spends more than 11 hours a day on media
  • 75 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds own cell phones
  • The average teenager sends 34 text messages after going to bed
  • In the first three months of 2011, the average teenager sent 3,364 text messages per month
  • 71 percent of children and teenagers have TVs in their bedrooms
  • 84 percent of children and teenagers have Internet access

The result? A generation of youngsters so plugged in to electronic devices – cell phones, video games, computers and TVs – that they’ve tuned out the world around them.

In other words, they’re screen addicts – and, like most addictions, this one can affect your child’s health, emotional well-being and safety. In addition to not getting enough sleep or exercise, screen addicts may have trouble forming meaningful face-to-face relationships and can potentially “meet” unsavory characters online who sell drugs or solicit sex.

How to Reduce Screen Time

Parents can – and must – help pull the technology plug, Dr. McDavid says. She offers these 10 digital detox strategies:

  1. Devise a family media policy and stick to it. If kids abuse it, limit access to or take away cell phones, gaming devices, TVs or tablets.
  2. Learn how much time your child spends on social media and what she is viewing and/or posting. Some children access pornography or enter sex chat rooms, send nude photos to boyfriends/girlfriends, buy drugs, watch R-rated movies, cyberbully other kids or get cyberbullied themselves. Don’t like your child’s activity? Pull the plug or confiscate the device.
  3. Convey that nothing online is secret. “Teenagers don’t realize that once you put it out there in that great beyond of media, it’s out of your control,” Dr. McDavid says. “Adolescents don’t live in the future, only in the present. Parents have to help with that.”
  4. Consider installing an app that disables cell phones while the car is running because accident rates increase when drivers are texting.
  5. Remove TVs from children’s bedrooms. Bedroom TVs increase the risk for obesity, drug abuse and exposure to sexual content.
  6. Forbid electronic devices at the dinner table. “If everyone’s looking at a cell phone, you’re negating the positive aspects of eating meals together,” she says. “Put your own cell phone away and listen to your kids.”
  7. Place desktop computers in the family room or other common area, so you can monitor activity.
  8. Ban cell phones at bedtime. Charge phones in the kitchen overnight, so kids don’t have access to them and can enjoy a full night’s sleep.
  9. Don’t give decked-out phones to young children because it makes them a target for thieves and puts them at risk of physical harm. If you think your child needs a cell phone, consider purchasing an inexpensive flip phone.
  10. Review the cell phone bill carefully to identify red flags. Again, if necessary, limit or take away the device for a specified period.

Additionally, if your child is under age 2, screen time is a no-no, says Dr. McDavid. For children ages 3 to 8, limit screen time to no more than two hours a day.

Lolita McDavid, MD is Medical Director, Child Advocacy and Protection, at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center. You can request an appointment with Dr. McDavid or any other University Hospitals doctor online.

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