Are you a parent, looking at your kid glued to their iPad or Netflix, wishing they’d perhaps get out the house for a while, take a stroll, or at least look up occasionally? A new study has some advice on how to cut down kids’ screen time, and you may not like it: you need to cut down your own screen time first.
It’s widely acknowledged that a major contributor to increasing obesity, especially in young people, is a more sedentary lifestyle than previous generations – something that can be attributed to the rise in smartphones, tablets, and the occasionally overwhelming choice of TV shows and streaming platforms, basically anything with a screen.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates around 41 million children globally under the age of 5 are considered obese or overweight, so it’s no wonder studies are looking into what is causing this and how to mitigate it, with plenty finding you can lay the blame of increased sedentary behavior in young kids quite firmly at the feet of screen time.
This study, from the University of Guelph, Canada, and published in the journal BMC Obesity, looked specifically at how parenting practice relating to media affects kids’ screentime habits, by not only looking at the kids’ habits but at the parents’ too and how the two correlate.
The researchers particularly wanted to look at smartphone and tablet time as they say most previous studies have focused on TV time. According to the study, between 2011 and 2013, mobile device usage in children aged 2 to 4 years old increased from 39 percent to 80 percent, while TV viewing time actually decreased.
Using data from the Guelph Family Health Study, they looked at 62 children between the ages of 18 months and 5 years and 64 parents, asking questions such as how the parents control their kids’ screen time, when they allow them to engage in screen time, and whether they engage in their own screen time in front of their kids.
They found that during the week children spent on average 1 hour a day looking at screens, and at the weekend that went up to just over 2 hours. The parents actually spent longer looking at their screens – 2 hours a day during the week and just over 2.5 hours at the weekend.
They also found that the children’s screen viewing habits were formed by many factors traced back to their parents. These included screen time being awarded for good behavior, the more time the parent spent in front of a screen, and the more time the child did. Children who were allowed to use their devices during mealtimes were also more likely to spend longer in general on them.
The researchers concluded that parents have a significant effect on the media use habits of their kids, and so any intervention to reduce the use of devices or amount of screen time needs to start by first addressing the parents' habits.