To Screen or Not To Screen

Have you ever said, “When I was your age, we didn’t have cell phones. We had to go outside to play,” or something similar? Whether we like it or not, our advances in technology have increased the amount of time we spend in front of a screen. Now that we are living through a pandemic, and many things have gone virtual, the amount of screen time we have to put in for work or school has increased dramatically. Obviously, we can’t eliminate screen time because we still need to work and our kids still need to go to school. However, the amount of time, and quality of what we are doing during that screen time, could be further examined.

For children and youth, research shows that excessive screen time is linked to health issues such as sleep problems, behavior problems, impaired social skills, lower scores on thinking and language tests, and more. According to an article from Harvard Medical School, the growing brain is continually building new neural connections and eliminating less used ones. The use of digital devices provides limited stimulation for the brain compared to reality. Children need all kinds of offline and online stimulation to help build those brains!

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends avoiding screen time for children under 18 months, other than video chatting. For children, 18-24 months, choose high-quality programming and watch with your child to help them understand what they are seeing. For children 2-5 years old, limit screen time to an hour-a-day, and watch with them to help them understand what they are watching. For children 6 years old, and older, place consistent limits on screen time and the types of media they are using. Make sure screen time does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity, other positive actions, and interaction with friends and family.

On average, adults spend approximately 11 hours-a-day staring at some type of screen. While some of that screen time is inescapable, we need to be better about limiting our recreational screen time. Excessive screen time for adults has been linked to vision problems, headaches, poor sleep, media addiction, back pain, neck and shoulder pain, and an inactive lifestyle. An inactive, or sedentary, lifestyle has been connected to heart disease, obesity, and other health problems. According to an article from Harvard School of Public Health, “…for every two hours spent watching TV, the risk of developing diabetes, developing heart disease, and early death increased by 20, 15, and 13 percent, respectively.” 

So, in the day and age where screen time is unavoidable, what can we do?  

For children and families:

  1. Adults should follow the suggested guidelines for correct amounts of screen time. Be a good role model for the children in your life and limit your screen time. Set your phone down and play with your children. Instead of checking emails after work hours, spend time doing something fun and active with the family.
  2. Get outside! Research has shown when children spend time outside, they enhance thinking skills, strengthen the ability to handle negative stress, increase creativity, reduce depression, and decrease symptoms of ADHD.  For adults, being active outside can improve blood pressure, boost mental health, and decrease cancer risks. So why not go outside in all kinds of weather?
  3. Think about quality. We know screen time is unavoidable, so think about how you and your children are interacting with screens. When not using screens for work and school, choose things that are worth your time. Use it in a way that promotes interaction, connection, and creativity. For younger children, watch with them and talk through what they are watching. Or use screen time to connect with family you can’t see in person.
  4. Screen-free times and areas. Have time throughout your day where you are intentional about being screen-free. Meal-time and bedtime are great times to go screen-free. Avoid having screens in bedrooms as the blue light produced by a screen can effect the quality of sleep.
  5. Provide alternatives. It can be easy to forget what else there is to do when screen time becomes a habit. Give children alternatives like playing outside, doing puzzles, making crafts, or building and creating. A quick google search (I know, I know more screen use) on screen-free activities for a certain age will give you many ideas.
  6. Let them be bored! “Boredom is the space in which creativity and imagination happen,” pediatrician Dr. Michael Rich, Director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Boston Children’s Hospital, stated.  Boredom isn’t a bad thing. It helps children come up with lots of great ideas for playing. 

Here are some local activities to get you started!

  1. Visit the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center.
  2. Check out Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center.
  3. Visit the Sioux City Art Center.
  4. Walk the trails at Stone State Park
  5. Visit the Sioux City Public Museums
  6. Walk the trails and play on the playgrounds at Bacon Creek Park.
  7. Visit the South Sioux City Community Orchard.

For adults at work:

  1. 20/20/20 rule: Look at something at least 20 feet away, for at least 20 seconds, every 20 minutes.
  2. Stretch: Take a quick stretch break every hour. Stand up and move your body, even if it’s only for a few minutes.
  3. Posture: Pay attention to your posture while sitting at your desk and computer.  
  4. Mealtime: Make mealtime screen-free. Focus on conversations, giving your eyes a break. 
  5. Walk: Take a quick 5-minute walk every hour.
  6. Move: Walk in place while on webinars or on the phone.
  7. Consider your chair. Consider trading in your chair for a stability ball to help with balance and posture. 

If you have more time and want to get moving or want to get moving with your family, try these local ideas!

  1. Go hiking at Stone Park, First Brides Grave Trail, Floyd River Trail, Perry Creek Trail, and South Ravine Park.
  2. Go sledding at Cone Park.
  3. Play in the snow.
  4. Go on scavenger hunts.
  5. Nebraska Extension Marathon Kids: Get moving with the family and walk or run a marathon. For more information, check out their website –

As we navigate through this pandemic, let’s live by these words from Albert Einstein, “Rejoice with your family in the beautiful land of life!” 

By, Julie Boyle

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