The Wisconsin Office of Children’s Mental Health (OCMH) today announced a new fact sheet “Healthy Screen Time in a Digital World” to help parents and guardians learn about the impact of excessive screen time use, especially social media, and to provide tips to improve children’s mental and physical health. OCMH encourages cultivating healthy habits to increase the amount of time kids are sleeping, being physically active, and spending time outdoors, all of which improve well-being.
“Parents, guardians, and children have been faced with unprecedented challenges during the past two years,” said Linda Hall, OCMH Director. “This includes navigating increased screen time use. As we start to get back to our more regular activities, it’s important to cultivate healthy habits for children and youth. One way to do this is by being intentional about screen use and duration at home.”
Alarming rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide among children led to the U.S. Surgeon General to issue an Advisory on Protecting Youth Mental Health in December 2021. Since COVID-19, children have engaged in less physical activity, logged more screen time, and reported more sleep problems, as well as emotional exhaustion, isolation, and screen fatigue. Families have had to turn to digital devices to navigate the pandemic, making televisions, smartphones, tablets, computers, and gaming consoles even more of a common part of daily life for the majority of children. A large National Institutes of Health (NIH) study on adolescent brains found the average during COVID increased to 7.7 hours of screen time – excluding schoolwork – for 12-13 year olds.
To help establish healthy screen time use, OCMH suggests the following actions parents and guardians can take:
- Start your child with a basic cell phone, not a smartphone.
- Establish limits – create a family technology use contract, including scheduled breaks.
- Monitor use – set restrictions on apps, use parental controls, and monitor all devices.
- Model healthy screen time for your children.
- Cultivate healthy habits – for example, participate in outdoor activities, ensure children and youth get the recommended amount of sleep, and prioritize in-person connections. Research shows Facebook users who spent one hour a day on the social networking site were the least lonely; those who spent less or much more than an hour were lonelier.
“Think Goldilocks,” Hall said. “A limited amount of screen time can help kids feel connected, but too much interferes with healthy habits and well-being. Follow one or more of these ideas to right-size screen time for the kids in your home.”
To learn more about support for families, visit OCMH’s website.