Most parents are aware of the fact that spending a lot of time in front of the screen, whether it is for watching TV or playing video games, is not a great thing for their kids. Many of the parents I know lament the amount of time their kids spend in front of the TV, yet seem unable or unwilling to effect any changes in their kid's behavior.

Consequently, children, and for that matter adults, spend an increasing amount of time being sedentary in front of the screen. As most of us know, this can potentially contribute to a variety of health conditions, including obesity and insomnia. Now researchers are adding to that list attention problems.

In fact, according to a new study published in the journal Pediatrics, experts are recommending that parents who want their children to be more focused both at home and at school should limit how much they watch TV and play video games. The findings are the result of a study that monitored viewing habits in relation to their ability to pay attention. One group included 1,323 students in the third, fourth, and fifth grade over the course of 13 months. Attention problems were assessed by their teachers. The second group involved 210 college-age students whose screen time and attention problems were self-reported.

What they observed was that when screen time exceeded more than the two hours recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), students were almost twice as likely to have above-average attention problems. While the exact number of hours that is detrimental is difficult to quantify, the researchers used the AAP's guidelines as a starting point. Interestingly, they found that a majority of subjects in the study engaged in an average of 4.26 hours each day of screen time, which is actually lower than the national average.

The findings support previous research that has linked television with problems paying attention, but the current findings also place video games in the same category. Though it is not completely clear why time spent in front of the screen has this effect, it seems pretty clear that it does, and that if parents wish to make changes, they need to act. This is especially true in light of the violent and angry nature of many of these video games, as well as the profound marketing influences of TV and the addictive nature of both of them.

With this in mind, parents may want to consider implementing certain rules regarding screen time for their kids. To accomplish this, here are some suggestions:

  • Be assertive in setting limits and stick to them. This may not make you popular, but try to remember that your first job is to be a parent and not a best friend.
     
  • Make available desirable and appealing alternatives to screen time. This could include board games, reading aloud from books, and especially time spent outdoors playing.
     
  • Be more involved. Engaging your kids in activities may require that you take part. This may seem challenging to some of us, but it can also be fun and rewarding, as well.
     
  • Offer screen time as a treat or a reward, rather than the norm. When children come to expect it, they tend to forsake the alternatives, including the healthier ones, because screen time is so easy and appealing.
     
  • Encourage more active pursuits. Left to their own devices, kids will find things to do, though it may take some prompting on the part of the parents. TV and video games are desirable, but hardly necessary for your kids' well being.

Television and video games are not going away any time soon, but that doesn't mean that we, as parents, can't have some say how much our kids take part in them. If anything, it is our job to oversee their exposure, so take the time to be involved. This may earn you the scorn of your children, but you can take comfort in the fact that you are doing what is best for them.

If you have questions or concerns, speak with your pediatrician.

This post was included in the latest Carnival of Homeschooling.