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Clearing the Air on Children's 'Screen Time'

Technology is an inescapable part of our lives. In our modern-day world, it has become increasingly difficult to shield children from the screens they encounter everywhere, seemingly from birth. There is constant confusion about the underlying research pertaining to how screen time can affect children. Moreover, families have wide-ranging strategies (or none at all) to help mitigate the impact on their child's development. To complicate matters even further, some research suggests that screen time can actually be educational for children as well as support their social development.

Our goal for this blog post is to clear some of the air on 'screen time' to provide a bit more helpful context for you and your family.

children on rug watching ipad and tv

The Problem With Screens

Research conducted by the Mayo Clinic suggests that unstructured playtime is more valuable for a young child's developing brain than is electronic media. Children younger than age 2 are more likely to learn and remember information from a live presentation than they are from a video.

By age 2, children can benefit from some types of screen time, such as programming with music, movement, and stories. By watching together, you can help your child understand what he or she is seeing and apply it in real life. However, passive screen time shouldn't replace reading, playing or problem-solving.

As your child grows, keep in mind that too much or poor quality screen time has been linked to:

  • Obesity

  • Irregular sleep schedules and shorter duration of sleep

  • Behavioral problems

  • Loss of social skills

  • Violence

  • Less time for play

Developing 'Screen Time' Rules:

The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages media use, except for video chatting, by children younger than 18 to 24 months. If you introduce digital media to children ages 18 to 24 months, families should ensure it is high quality and make sure to avoid solo media use.

For children ages 2 to 5, experts suggest limiting screen time to a maximum of one hour per day of high-quality programming. As your child grows, a one-size-fits-all approach doesn't work as well. You'll need to decide how much media to let your child use each day and what's appropriate.

Consider applying the same rules to your child's real and virtual environments. In both, play with your child, teach kindness, be involved, and know your child's friends and what your child does with them. Also, keep in mind that the quality of the media your child is exposed to is more important than the type of technology or amount of time spent.

How to Ensure High-Quality Screen Time:

  • Preview programs, games, and apps before allowing your child to view or play with them. Organizations such as Common Sense Media can help you determine what's appropriate. Better yet, watch, play or use them with your child

  • Seek out interactive options that engage your child, rather than those that just require pushing and swiping or staring at the screen

  • Use parental controls to block or filter internet content

  • Make sure your child is close by during screen time so that you can supervise his or her activities

  • Ask your child regularly what programs, games, and apps he or she has played with during the day

  • When watching programming with your child, discuss what you're watching and educate him or her about advertising and commercials

  • Avoid fast-paced programming, which young children have a hard time understanding, apps with a lot of distracting content, and violent media

  • Eliminate advertising on apps, since young children have trouble telling the difference between ads and factual information

Strategies for Families:

Set reasonable limits for your child's screen time, especially if your child's use of screens is hindering involvement in other activities.

Consider these tips:

  • Prioritize unplugged, unstructured playtime

  • Create tech-free zones or times, such as during mealtime or one night a week

  • Discourage use of media entertainment during homework

  • Set and enforce daily or weekly screen time limits and curfews, such as no exposure to devices or screens one hour before bedtime

  • Consider using apps that control the length of time a child can use a device

  • Require your children to charge their devices outside of their bedrooms at night

  • Keep screens out of your child's bedroom

  • Limit your own screen time

  • Eliminate background TV

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