Set limits: Children should not have free rein to play on iPads, computers or watch as much TV as they want. *MCT photo
Set limits: Children should not have free rein to play on iPads, computers or watch as much TV as they want. *MCT photo

Question: Summer is nearly over and my kids seem to have spent it glued to an iPad, DS game, TV or computer. I don’t feel this is good and when I was growing up we definitely had less exposure to electronics and media, but most other parents I know don’t seem as concerned. They say there’s an educational component. Is this true? How much is too much?

Answer: You are right to be concerned. There is ample evidence that too much exposure to television and other forms of audio visual media can be harmful to children’s health. “Viewing time” has been shown to be associated with impaired childhood development, obesity, and antisocial behaviour into adulthood. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than 1 to 2 hours of “quality programming” a day – note the stress on quality; for there to be a benefit, the viewing content needs to be educational. 

However, it isn’t just about the content. A recent longitudinal study which followed children from birth and found that young adults who had spent more time watching television during childhood and adolescence were significantly more likely to have a criminal conviction, an antisocial personality disorder, and more aggressive personality traits compared with those who viewed less television. 

There are many reasons for this, including reduced social interaction with peers and parents and poorer educational achievement. This makes sense because, unlike other games and activities that require talking, interacting, building, climbing, etc. “viewing time” can limit a child’s activities to a very narrow set of cognitive and physical actions if it isn’t controlled and counter-balanced. 

This can prevent children from developing essential mental and social skills like taking turns, following rules, negotiating, understanding others’ feelings, etc.; as well as fine and gross motor skills needed for all sorts of vital functions – from writing to riding a bike. So well done for being a concerned parent. Limit you kids’ viewing time and watch them flourish.


 

Question: It’s time to go back to school. How do I reduce the amount of time my children watch TV and play computer games?

Answer: The Department of Health has a helpful flyer called “Television – Friend or Foe?” It provides a number of tips for parents on how to reduce children’s viewing time and can be found on www.health.gov.bm. International agencies also promote reduced viewing time for adults and children to prevent a range of health and developmental problems (see previous answer). Here are some popular tips:

  • Set limits: Limit viewing to a maximum of 1 to 2 hours of quality programming a day. 
  • Plan viewing: Plan what you will view to get the most out of the time you set.
  • Watch with your child: To discuss difficult topics and ensure the TV or game becomes a family activity, not a baby-sitter.
  • Don’t allow private televisions: They take away your control over your child’s viewing time and content, and can interfere with sleep.
  • Avoid TV during meal times: It prevents social interaction, appreciation of the meal, and is associated with poorer diet. 
  • Reduce your own viewing time: Parents who watch more television have children who watch more television. If you want to reduce your kids’ viewing time, set the right example.
  • Viewing-free days: Aim to have some days in the week with no viewing time at all. Replace it with other activities like board games, walks, sports, art, etc.

Jennifer Attride-Stirling is the CEO of the Bermuda Health Council.