How much screen time is safe for kids?

The digital media, wireless Internet access, and the vast amount of information available on the Web have transformed our lives. Just like us, our children are exposed to all of this stimulation through computers, smart phones, and some gaming systems. The difference between our experience and our children’s is that we remember life before all this technology.

Our access to information, ways of communication, and understanding of the world were slower and, most often, more physical in the form of human interaction, books, newspapers, magazines, or travel. Now, our children have, mostly, unrestricted access to virtually everything because of the extent of the Internet and their personal ability to gain access to the Internet.

The access to information, the ability to locate knowledge quickly and almost immediately has wonderful advantages. Physical boundaries have been extended and expanded by virtual interaction made possible by email, text, chat, Skype, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, etc. There are countless other benefits to our modern way of living for us and for our children.

Still, as with everything, moderation is important. If time watching cute animal videos on YouTube replaces physical exercise, or if texting with friends substitutes for meeting physically and talking face-to-face, or if playing online, multi-user video games becomes more important than doing homework or work assignments, then the technology is being misused. Technology is meant to enhance our lives and to let us reach farther to connect with others. Technology is not meant to be a substitute for real life or a way to project an artificially “perfect” life. We, as parents, have had the experience of living without technology but our children haven’t. Therefore, it is our responsibility as parents to help them learn what technology is for, how to use it, and what its limits are. The first step in doing this is to help them manage their access and use of screen time, which is where they connect with digital media.

Some recent research can give you new information to help you decide what is right for your family.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has updated their guidelines for children and adolescents using media. The highlights of this report are:

  1. Children aged 3-18 years should be have no more than 2 hours per day of screen time (including Internet, texting, TV, movies, and video games)
    1. Children aged 0-2 years should not be exposed to screen time in any form (including Internet, TV, movies, tablets, smart phones) (AAP, Fall 2013)
    2. A recent study reported that strict parental limits on screen time was associated with less aggression, better school performance, and a healthy weight. Children whose parents closely monitored and limited their video game and television watching were less aggressive with school mates, had better grades, and had lower rates of overweight/obese because they got more sleep. (JAMA Pediatrics, 2013)
  2. Another study linked the amount of time children spent in front of the screen (TV, computers, video games) to their physical health. The researchers found that children who used screen time for 2-6 hours per day weighed more and had higher blood pressures than children who had less than 1 hour of screen time per day. (American College of Cardiology, 2014)
  3. A research study funded by federal and professional agencies found that only 2 out of 5 U.S. children in elementary school met the recommendations for both physical activity and screen-time. The recommended physical activity for children is 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous exercise each day. The recommend screen-time is no more than 2 hours per day. Many children met one recommendation but only 38% met both. These findings may inform childhood obesity interventions.

Based on this current research, the take away information to help you choose how much screen time is right for your child includes:

  1. Infants and toddlers do not benefit from screen time. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under the age of 2 years should avoid screen time, including TV, iPad, and touch screen phones. Children age 2 and younger should focus their time on activities that increase their gross motor (rolling over, crawling, walking) and fine motor (holding a spoon, picking up a Cheerio) control as well as engaging in both verbal and non-verbal communication. Music can be played for entertainment as well as to encourage movement and oral expression.
  2. Parents who closely monitored their child’s screen time had children who got along better with peers, increased grades, and healthier weights due to increased sleep times.
  3. Children who had less than 2 hours of screen time per day had lower weights and lower blood pressures that contribute positively to their heart health.
  4. Only slightly more than a third of U.S. elementary school children meet the guideline recommendations for physical activity and screen time. Children who meet both guidelines have healthier weights.

Knowledge is power

  • What new information did you learn from this posting? 
  • Did it help you identify something in your family you would like to change? 

Share your experience below and what steps you plan on taking to guide your family.


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