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Do you use screen time for kids as a reward for good behavior?

A Canadian study examined new aspects of using screen time for kids from parenting strategies of mothers and fathers.

Sitting in front of the TV for long periods is bad for both adults and children. Excessive screen time for kids, in particular, is linked to a variety of developmental and behavioral disorders, learning difficulties, and being overweight.

The numbers of kids with weight issues are alarming. There are over 41 million overweight children who are five years old or younger in the world. Canada is no exception to this, as obesity among Canadian children is constantly increasing, with one in every three children being overweight. Current Canadian guidelines recommend less than one hour a day of recreational TV watching for preschoolers and zero screen time for children under two.

Parents play the largest role in shaping their kids’ habits. Because of this, media parenting practices are to be questioned. A recent Canadian study, published in BMC Obesity, addressed this concern.

Professor Lisa Tang from the University of Guelph in Canada explained in a press release: “We wanted to investigate the impact of parenting practices on toddler and preschooler’s screen time because this is the age when habits and routines become established and they tend to continue throughout life … also, the use of mobile devices, such as tablets and smartphones, has soared in popularity among this age group in recent years.”

The study included 62 children between one-and-a-half to five years old. Their parents described how much screen time they allow and how they monitor it. They also described their own screen time habits, especially in front of their kids.

Most parents used screen time to reward good behavior

The study reports that the average screen time for kids is one-and-a-half hours on weekdays and about two hours on weekends. Interestingly, most parents report that they use screen time to reward good behavior. As a result, screen time for kids on weekends is twenty minutes longer than on regular days.

Not surprisingly, the total screen time of kids who eat in front of a screen is longer than in kids who don’t eat in front of a screen. In addition, kids who observe their parents, and especially their mothers, on screens during their time together, spend more time themselves practicing the same habits.

Professor Jess Haines from the research team clarifies, “We think the amount of screen time is higher on weekends because children are at home and typically have more interaction with their parents. It’s possible the parent is allowing the child to be in front of a screen while they are.”

However, she notes that for parents of younger children, this is not as common, “because parents can have their screen time while a child is napping or in bed. But as children get older, out-grow their naps and have later bedtimes, spending time in front of a screen without children around becomes more difficult”.

Referring to table manners, Haines suggests that think screens should not be a part of meals because it is a great time for the family to connect. She also notes that if parents do restrict their children from having screen time during meals, then they have to be consistent in following this restriction.

Parents should look consider their own screen time use

Overall, the results of the study make a few interesting points. The main application of this study is that before changing screen time for kids’ routines, parents should look into their own screen time modelling.

Professor Tang further notes that it is important to understand that this sedentary activity is associated with a greater risk of obesity as well as poorer academic and social skills later in life. Tang adds that watching screens takes away from other interactions that help children develop social and academic skills.

The research team hopes that these findings can help arm parents who are entering a world where “screens are ubiquitous”.Perhaps once parents fully acknowledge the long-term influences that screen time has on their kids, they will stop using it to reward good behavior.

Written by Marina Chemerovski-Glikman, PhD

Reference: Tang L, Darlington G, MaD WL, Haines J. Mothers’ and fathers’ media parenting practices associated with young children’s screen-time: a cross-sectional study. BMC Obesity. 2019.



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