Trying To Control Kids' Behavior With Screen Time May Lead To More Screen Time, Study Finds

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When you're a parent, it can be hard to motivate kids. You need to have things that you can give out, but also things that can be taken away. Using screen time as reward or punishment may seem like the perfect solution, but a new study is cautioning against it. According to the research, trying to control kids' behavior with screen time may lead to more screen time. So, parents, it may be time to find another strategy.

As things start to get more and more digital, researchers are scrambling to understand how screens in daily life impact kids. In 2015, the Washington Post reported that teens spent an average of nine hours a day online. The outlet also reported that kids aged 8 to 12 spent six hours online. That's a lot of screen time!

As social media becomes increasingly popular, kids are spending more time tuned in to their screens. That may make them seem like the perfect motivator. If kids are connecting with peers online, of course they'd be more likely to modify their behavior to get extra screen time or avoid having it taken away.

But, researchers are now cautioning that this may actually cause kids to increase their amounts of screen time overall.

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The study, published in the journal BMC Obesity, decided to look into how parenting practices impact the amount of time young kids spend looking at screens. Researchers worked with 62 children between 18 months and 5 years of age, as well as with 68 parents, as reported by Medical Xpress.

Researchers found that, on average, kids spent almost an hour and a half looking at screens on weekdays and just over two hours a day looking at screens on weekends, according to EurekAlert!. But, EurekAlert! also noted that researchers found that more than half of the parents participating in the study reported using screen time to control behavior — particularly on weekends.

Because of that, kids actually spent about 20 minutes or so more in front of a screen on weekends.

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Researchers got their results by asking parents about how they monitor how much screen time their kids get, when they let their kids look at screens, and whether the parents and kids spend time in front of a screen together, as reported by Medical Xpress.

Family relations and applied nutrition professor Jess Haines, who worked on the study, said of using screen time to control behavior, according to EurekAlert!:

It's similar to how we shouldn't use sugary treats as rewards because by doing so we can heighten the attraction to them. When you give food as a reward it makes children like the carrot less and the cake more. Same thing with screen time.

Of course, kids also spend more time in front of screens on the weekend because they're probably spending more time at home than they do during the week. But, this study does offer an interesting perspective about how screens should maybe be approached in parenting, as well as how effective using it to control behavior might actually be.

If your goal is to limit your kids' screen use, then it might time to find another motivator for improving behavior.

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