What is screen time?   Why is it so important?  Does it affect my child’s development?   There are so many wonderful programs for children now, aren’t they great?

Let’s try and look at the screen time issue from many perspectives.

What is screen-time?

Screen time for childrenScreen time is the time spent watching TV, DVD’s, computers, hand held video games, and mobile phones.

Young children in America watch an average of four hours of TV per day.

How does it influence my child?

Why is it important to understand the influence of screen time.

  • Screen time is sedentary, and children are not physically active while they watch or play at the screen.  This time displaces other activity such as free play and structured physical activity
  • Children may be drinking more sugary drinks, snacking and eating foods high in sugar, salt, or fat while they watch. There is an increased demand for energy dense foods which are heavily advertised.
  • Children are probably not focusing or processing what is happening on the screen. Their brains are not active.
  • Children are not socially interacting with adults or peers.

Therefore, too much screen time activity may contribute to:

  • Overweight and obesity (less physically active) There is a link between obesity and electronic media use  increase in screen time, decreases overall level of physical activity.  Obese children watch more TV than non-obese children.
  • Fewer social interactions
  • Excessive TV viewing has been linked to poor cognitive performance, antisocial behavior, and reduced sleep time.  Research indicates that for every hour of TV children watch each day, their risk of developing attention related problems increase by 10%.  (For example if a child watches three hours of television each day, the child would be more likely to develop attention deficit disorder.)

Christakis DA, Zimmerman, FJ. Guiseppe DL, McCary,CA, Early TV Exposure and subsequent attentional problems in children. Pediatrics, 200; 113 (708-713).

Children need a wide range of activities for development, including active physical play, creative and imaginative play, hands-on fun, anything involving relationships with real people.

Are there specific guidelines as to what to do and how much screen time is acceptable?

A healthy family lifestyle includes limits on daily screen time.

American Academy of Pediatrics has advised for more than 15 years:

  • Children under two years–Discourage all screen time
  • Children two to five years- no more than one hour per day
  • Children five to 18 years- no more than two hours per day

However, the American Academy of Pediatrics is reconvening in spring, 2016 to reconsider the policies to fit more with reality.  As they acknowledge, all screen time is not the same.  Talking to Grandma on the phone via Skype is not the same as aimlessly and endlessly watching cartoons on You Tube or Video.

Wall street Journal, October 12, 2015, “ Pediatricians Rethink Screen Time Policy for Children”, by Samantha Reddy, states that, “Some of the traditional recommendations, like discouraging all screen time before the age of 2 just don’t fit with reality, circa 2015-2016. “  James Styer, chief executive of Common Sense Media, which rates all media for parents.

Suggestions on how to reduce screen time

What can parents do?   Here are suggestions that are agreed upon:

  • Parents can set a good example by limiting their own TV viewing, smart phone, and video game use
  • Track screen time with a scheduling sheet
  • Avoid watching TV while eating
  • Don’t allow TV on while child is doing homework or playing. Background TV has a detrimental effect–it related to poor executive function.  When it is on, play is not as complex and that is an important part of a child’s development.
  • Treat TV as a privilege, not a right that they are entitled to. TV viewing is allowed only after chores and homework are completed
  • Try a week day ban to allow more time for meals, and time for discussions around the table
  • Use screening tools
  • Come up with a family schedule
  • Watch TV with your child
    • Talk to kids about what they are watching
    • Share own beliefs and values
    • Use content to explain confusing situations or feelings about different topics
  • Teach kids to question and learn from what they see on TV
  • Offer fun alternatives to TV, such as:
    • Playing board games
    • Building/constructing
    • Cooking together
    • Hide-seek
    • Outdoor games

These are considerations when allowing children screen time:

Does the device promote back and forth interaction?   The more the screen video promotes human interaction, the more educationally valuable it may be.  If the media is interactive, then children under 2 years may participate in that activity for 3-60 minutes.   Use the screen wisely for its creativity and interaction, not as a substitute for real interface with the people and things in the child’s world.