With the limitations put in place because of COVID-19, children and families have become more dependent on technology for schooling, employment and leisure. Finding the balance between proper and excessive screen time is critical.

“We are still trying to parse out what aspects of screen time are problematic,” says Ashley Levan, MD, a pediatric neuropsychologist with St. Louis Children’s Hospital. “For example, time spent playing video games is not equal to time spent on social media, and neither are equal to time spent on homework.” 

These differences, she explains, hold the key to understanding how negative and positive online interactions can affect your child’s development and behavior. 

Overuse of technology can result in a variety of physical symptoms in a child, such as increased eyestrain, poor sleep health, pain and aches around the neck and shoulders, increased weight gain, reduced melatonin levels, and more. In terms of mental health, technology can lead to increased anxiety and difficulty focusing, a possible precursor to poorer performance in school.

Encouraging sensible technology use starts with parents. Follow these tips to create a more interactive and enriching relationship between children and their devices:

  • Be mindful of technology usage. “Teach your children to be active, instead of passive, consumers of technology,” Dr. Levan suggests. Watch TV shows together and discuss the programs to engage critical thinking skills.
  • Set boundaries. Create healthy routines, such as making meals technology-free or establishing areas of the home where devices are not allowed.
  • Balance tech time with outdoor activities or other hobbies. To enhance safety, consider protection software for the family computer.
  • Lead by example. “Children will imitate behavior,” Dr. Levan says. “If you are distracted by phones or checking email, your children will learn and repeat that behavior.” Avoid multitasking and distractive device use around your child.
  • Establish good habits. Put guidelines on technology use in bed and during family time. Encourage ergonomically correct posture when they use devices. 

“I think it’s important to recognize that technology is here to stay, and in many cases, it has the potential to improve lives,” Dr. Levan says. “A key to optimizing and ensuring healthy technology consumption is teaching children and adolescents how to interact with these technologies.”

Looking for general health and wellness information for your family? Call the St. Louis Children’s Hospital Center for Families at 314.454.KIDS (5437) or visit StLouisChildrens.org/FRC.