Wisconsin health officials release tips on healthy screen time for youth

MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) – As screen time use has increased over the course of the pandemic, the Wisconsin Office of Children’s Mental Health released a fact sheet Wednesday on navigating a healthy amount of screen time for children and teenagers.

They hope the tips given can help parents and caregivers do their best to support their child’s well-being.

Prior to the pandemic, kids ages 8-12 spent five hours a day on a screen, while teens spent about nine hours. Once the pandemic hit, screen time for children ages 12-13 went up to over seven hours daily.

The OCMH found that while screen time was going up for both children and teenagers during the COVID-19 pandemic, there was also a drastic increase in anxiety, depression, and suicide.

OCMH Director Linda Hall stated that parents, guardians and children have all been faced with challenges over the course of the pandemic, including navigating increased screen time.

“As we start to get back to our more regular activities, it’s important to cultivate healthy habits for children and youth,” Hall said. “One way to do this is by being intentional about screen use and duration at home.”

In 2019, OCMH reported that 49% of kids ages 13-18 self-reported having anxiety, while 25.5% reported having depression and 18.5% said they self-harm. In December of 2021, the increase in these rates led to the U.S. Surgeon General issuing an advisory on Protecting Youth Mental Health.

Researchers have tracked how technology addiction disrupts concentration and the abilities to focus, but also how it leads to depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. They say that the more time kids spend on screens, the less time they have for healthy sleep habits, physical activity, and time spent outdoors, all which help improve well-being.

The OCMH wants parents to support their children through healthy screen time in a world where just about everything is digital. Some tips they said to help lessen screen time in youth is:

  • Start Basic: Start your child with a basic cell phone – not a smartphone.
  • Establish Limits: Create a family technology use contract. An example they used was to agree to keep devices out of bedrooms at night and plug them in at a central location.
  • Monitor Use: Set time restrictions on apps, use parental control, and monitor all devices.
  • Discuss Why: Unfettered internet use and cyberbullying can quickly become dangerously harmful; technology can overwhelm the brain; can be addictive; and can leave users feeling lonely, disconnected, anxious and depressed.
  • Model Healthy Screen Time: Keep mealtime tech-free, with no devices at the table for either parents or children. Limit yourself and your children to about one hour per day on social media, following the Goldilocks rule. Turn off all screens at least one hour before bedtime.
  • Cultivate Healthy Habits: Schedule outdoor activities, in nature if possible, and encourage plenty of daily physical activity. Ensure kids are getting the recommended amount of sleep. Prioritize in-person connections.

If you or a family member need help with mental health or need someone to talk with if you feel you are a danger to yourself, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

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