While I was pregnant with my first child, I read an article on Computer Vision Syndrome. It included recent studies on the effect of prolonged screen time in children, highlighting how too many hours a day in front of the TV, computer or device screen can be harmful to their vision.
I tucked that nugget away, along with many other valuable parenting knowledge and stored it for a rainy day.
My son didn’t actually watch his first video until he was 6 months old. It was about 2 minutes long and it was of his father on a U.S. Naval Ship. He was on deployment and due to limited communications, it was one of the first “face to face” contacts we had from him in 3 months. Needless to say, we cherished it and played it everyday until his return.
But that was the extent of his screen time until around the age of 2 ½ years old, when we introduced some cartoons, such as Curious George and Kipper. We didn’t worry too much about how much TV he was watching, because at that age he would much rather be outside or constructing with blocks and playing with toys.
Fast forward, our little boy is nearing 5 years old and his desire to watch shows and play games on our tablet have greatly increased. He’s still that same boy that loves to play outside and build, but his awareness of what’s available has increased. His ability to ask for TV has obviously changed. We have set boundaries and limits on his intake of screen time, not only as a measure for him but also to protect his little sister. She is 21 months old and has had more exposure to watching television than he ever had at her age.
It’s a shocking statistic to me that Canadian youth spends an average of 6 hours a day and more than 7 hours on weekends in front of a screen, however as my son has grown and his attraction to the TV has grown, I can see how his screen time could easily multiply if we aren’t careful in monitoring it.
So how have we kept a handle on this potential problem? We have set a limit of 2 hours of screen time a day. He gets 30 minutes to an hour in the morning, depending how early he wakes up. When he comes home from school, there is no screen time until after dinner. That time is focused on playing outside, having a play date, doing some activities as a family or playing in his room. Having those rules in place protects him, but it also helps us as parents be more conscious of the actual hours that TV can suck away. It’s easy to say “Oh, he just watched a couple of shows” however when you calculate the minutes that turned into hours, it really adds up – I’ve been there!!
Having a set screen time schedule also ensures that his little sister isn’t taking in too much time in front of a screen either. We also constantly remind the kids to sit very far from the television or if they are watching a video on one of our phones or tablets, we pull it away from their faces. Because kids always want to get really close to the screen. Being too close along with prolonged computer and TV use causes blurred vision, eyestrain and headaches.
When and if my son fixates on wanting to watch TV, we re-direct to having a spontaneous craft time, going for a walk to the park, or creating a fort in the basement. Something that grabs his attention and sounds like a better (funner) idea than watching his favourite show.
We also remind him during his screen time, when it’s nearing an end. I mean, 3-5 reminders leading up to the end so he is prepared for that screen to shut off without a complete melt down.
My kids aren’t the only ones that need monitoring. I am a classic example of too much time spent in front of the computer. I work online from home! My job includes operating my website, writing blog posts, being active on social media, graphic design..etc. I can easily rack up 8 hours in front of my laptop if I’m not consciously monitoring myself. One of the ways that I have started to decrease my screen time, is by doing my creative writing away from the computer and putting pen to paper instead.
Did you know that your eyes work harder to maintain a clear image when constantly viewing a screen, causing Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS)? Hence the squinting to see the screen after a long day in front of it!
One way to help break that cycle is to take 20 second breaks, every 20 minutes and to look 20 feet away from your screen. It’s called the 20/20/20 rule and The Ontario Association of Optometrists’ 20-second daydreams can help you break bad screen habits.
To learn more about how you can protect your family from CVS, make an appointment with your optometrist today. Don’t have one? You can find one here.
How are you encouraging better screen time behaviour in your family? Do you have any tips to share with us?
This post is sponsored by The Ontario Association of Optometrists. The opinions and language are all my own.