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How much screen time is too much for teens?

In the past few years, screens have invaded our lives. They’re in our pockets, purses, and spaces. And teenagers are no exception. They’re spending more time on screens than ever before. Which begs the question, how much is too much?

The recommendation: According to the 24-Hour Movement Guidelines, teens should only get two hours of recreational screen time a day.

The reality: Most teens are getting way too much screen time. The call of the outdoors just can’t compete with Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube.

The consequences: Unfortunately, the difference between the recommendation and the reality has consequences. When teens get too much screen time, they can develop poor sleep habits, have less energy, are less focused at school, and are more likely to have symptoms of depression and anxiety. In short, they’re less healthy and less happy.

Why Limiting Screen Time Matters

The importance of limiting screen time is easy to understand once you learn that the whole day matters. That’s why the 24-Hour Movement Guidelines were created. Because there’s only so much time in a day, each behaviour–sweating, stepping, sleeping and sitting–affects the others. Change one, and you change the others.

So, if a teen spends all day scrolling on their phone and watching YouTube videos on their laptop, they’re going to be less likely to move enough and less likely to get enough sleep. This can quickly lead to a vicious cycle, where teens are less active develop poor sleep habits, and spend more time on screens each day.

How to Reduce Screen Time

Making the reality meet up with the recommendation isn’t easy, but thinking about the full day can be helpful for identifying strategies to reduce time spent on screens.

Tips like:

  • Help your teen get into a screen-free bedtime routine -screen time in the evening is especially bad for sleep patterns.
  • Swap inactive screen-based activities for active, outdoor activities. Encourage your teen to try new activities such as geocaching or mountain biking with friends or participate in an after school program at a local community centre.
  • Set limits like no screens during meal times or no screens after a certain time.
  • Suggest having one day a week with no screen time like Screen-Free Sundays. If they have a smartphone, encourage them to turn off as many notifications as possible and to turn on flight mode when they’re with friends and family.
  • Role model good behaviour by being mindful of your own screen time.
  • Encourage getting to school actively -it’s easier to look at a screen when riding in a car.

When in doubt, tell them to get outside.

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