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Screen Time for Kids: How Much is Too Much

Posted on 2020-10-29 11:53:41

Since the early Spring of 2020, kids have had access to more screen time than ever before. Even before the Lockdown period before Covid-19, parents and researchers had been trying to pin down about how much sitting in front of television, computer, and smartphone screens was enough. The World Health Organization (WHO) has recognized that excessive media use has been associated with obesity, lack of sleep, school problems, aggression and other behavior issues.

 The statistics expose the problem of extensive screen usage. Healthychildren.org cites:

  • Almost 75% of teens own a smartphone. They can access the Internet, watch TV and videos, and download interactive applications (apps). Mobile apps allow photo-sharing, gaming, and video-chatting.

  • 25% of teens describe themselves as "constantly connected" to the Internet.

  • Teens who watch more than 5 hours of TV per  day are 5 times more likely to be overweight than teens who watch 0 to 2 hours. Watching TV for more than 1.5 hours daily is a risk factor for obesity for children 4 through 9 years of age.

  • Teens spend most of their free time online, and show less interest in offline or "real-life" relationships. 4% to 8% of children and teens may have problems limiting their Internet use, and almost 10% of US youth 8 to 18 years of age may have Internet gaming disorder. 

  • About 12% of youth aged 10 to 19 years of age have sent a sexual photo to someone else.

Beyond "Just Texting Your Friends"

If we look a little more closely at the problems associated with too much screen time, we see:

  • Obesity - Excessive screen use, as well as having a TV in the bedroom, can increase the risk of obesity. Viewers are likely to snack or overeat while watching their screens.

  • Sleep problems -Too much screen use, especially at night, can interfere with sleep. Children and teens who spend more time with social media or who sleep with mobile devices in their rooms are at risk for sleep problems. Exposure to the backlighting on screens and stimulating content can delay or disrupt sleep.

  • Problematic internet use - Heavy video gamers are at risk for Internet gaming disorder. The disorder sees extensive mood swings, bursts of anger, and a tendency to shun interactions with friends and family. There may be increased risks for depression at both the high and low ends of Internet use.

  • Negative effect on school performance - Children and teens often view their screens to watch entertainment while they're doing other things, like homework. The distractions can impact 

  • Risky behaviors - Teens like to show off to their close friends. They sometimes display risky behaviors on social media, like substance use, sexual behaviors, self-injury, or eating disorders. 

So How Much Screen Is Enough?

For instance, the WHO recommends no screen time for children, and only one hour per day for kids under five years old. Healthychildren.org has indicated that: Limit entertainment screen time to less than one or two hours per day.

Here are some approaches to moderating the amount of screen time in the home:

  • Pay attention to how your kids act during and after watching TV, playing video games, or hanging out online. If they're using high-quality, age-appropriate media; their behavior is positive; and their screen-time activities are balanced with plenty of healthy screen-free ones, there's no need to worry.

  • If you're concerned about heavy media use, consider creating a schedule that works for your family. This can include weekly screen-time limits, limits on the kinds of screens kids can use, and guidelines on the types of activities they can do or programs they can watch. Make sure to get your kids' input so the plan teaches media literacy and self-regulation, and use this as an opportunity to discover what they like watching, introduce new shows and apps for them to try, or schedule a family movie night. The plan should have consistent rules and enforcement for older kids.

  • Avoid use of screen media other than video-chatting for children younger than 18 months.

  • If you choose to introduce media to children 18-24 months, find high-quality programming and co-view and co-play.

  • Limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programs for children age 2 to 5 years.

  • Make sure that at night there are no electronic devices beyond an alarm clock in the children's rooms. Recharge devices in a central room in the home, like the kitchen or living room.

The internet, social media, and texting have all become integral parts of our society. If you really care about your child's screen time, start by moderating your own. Reducing your own time on electronic devices will free up time for you to develop a deeper, richer relationship with your children.


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