When you're known as "the blue light expert," people expect to hear nothing from you but lectures about spending less time with your screens. And while it's true that too much blue light can cause detrimental physical effects, I know it's unrealistic to believe people are going to quit their electronic devices — especially now. Our world has become extremely virtual over the past year, as we rely on our devices to connect, educate, and entertain us. It's important to embrace these positive aspects of screen time even as we acknowledge and respect the negative.
Do you worry about how much screen time your kids are exposed to? Every conscientious parent shares your concern. But here's the thing: You can protect your family in a couple of easy ways! First, put blue-light-blocking screen protectors on all of your family's electronic devices — a one-and-done solution that will help restore your peace of mind. Then, buy every family member a pair of yellow-lens glasses to block out the blue light — another simple solution, but, of course, you have to get them to actually wear them for them to work.
Once you've done your due diligence on blocking out the blue, take a deep breath and shift your focus from the quantity of screen time to the quality. Think about how you can make your family's screen time as productive and beneficial as possible.
How Do I Get the Most Out of My Family's Screen Time?
One of the best things you can do for your kids is to encourage them to make good use of their screen time. Spending hours at a time on social media or playing video games isn't healthy. What is? Letting their interests, creativity and curiosity drive their nonschool-related screen activities. You can engage in these activities with them, when family bonding time is called for, or suggest they check them out on their own:
- Take virtual family tours of places you've always wanted to go or never even thought about visiting. Try the Boston Children's Museum, National Museum of Natural History or Google's Hidden Worlds of the National Parks virtual tours. If your kids like animals, the San Diego Zoo, Monterey Bay Aquariumand Houston Zoo offer live webcam footage. Be curious and creative, and check out all the places you can go!
- Help your children identify educational videos on topics they're interested in: Science, sports, cooking, painting, nature, etc. Check out our recommendations for the best YouTube channels for kids or best educational resources for kids for ideas.
- Spend quality time with extended family members — playing board games with Grandma and Grandpa over Zoom or having a virtual birthday celebration with cousins, for example.
The important thing to remember is that screen time should be positive time, whether that means it sparks creativity, encourages critical thinking, teaches new skills, imparts new knowledge, or helps build strong, healthy relationships.
How Do I Wind Down Screen Time Before Bed?
While it may not be feasible to scale back on the amount of your kids' screen time during the day — at least not until the pandemic clears and we can get back to living life confidently beyond our four walls — a line needs to be drawn at bedtime.
Here's why: Blue light suppresses melatonin pathways. Since melatonin induces sleep (it keeps other essential physical processes in check, too), both quantity and quality of sleep can suffer. And when the quality of sleep is suboptimal, memory formation can be adversely affected. If your child learned a lot of important things during the day, that learning isn't as likely to stick as it would have been had they gotten a good night's sleep. Plus, when any of us are deprived of REM sleep and/or deep sleep, we may feel grumpy or tired all day. That's not conducive to learning, productivity, or our general state of well-being.
From a biological standpoint, restorative sleep is a much more important concern than quantity of screen time. So while it's fine to be a good sport about daytime use of electronic devices, turning off the screens an hour or two before bedtime should be non-negotiable. Get your family into a routine of shutting down and chilling out as they prepare for bed. If any of you must be plugged in at night, be sure to use the blue-light-filtering glasses or screen protector.