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How Does Screen Time Affect My Child?

John Apostol, MD, FAAP

October 24, 2019

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Let’s face it. Electronic devices can be very convenient to entertain and keep a child busy. However, no matter what form it takes, whether watching TV or using a tablet or smart phone, screen time needs to have parameters. Studies show that children learn best from unstructured play. This includes playing with parents and on their own, which teaches children how to entertain themselves. For healthy growth and development, children need to have good sleep practices and time to play, learn, and interact with others. Too much screen time has been shown to adversely affect growth in these areas as well as putting children at risk for:

  • Social isolation, aggression, and antisocial behaviors in middle childhood
  • Language delays
  • Higher risk of obesity and diabetes
  • Poor sleep resulting in increased behavioral problems
  • Difficulties with life skills (More time spent in front of a screen means less time spent practicing riding a bike or learning skills on the playground. This initial skill-building process forms a foundation used to learn other skills throughout life

Screen Time Guidelines

Screen time is not recommended for children under the age of 2. For children ages 2-5, limit screen time to 1 hour per day of a high-quality educational program. Don’t make screen time part of childcare or supervision for children under the age of 5 years. For children over the age of 6, limit screen time consistently and monitor the types of media being viewed. Screen time needs to be balanced with behaviors important to healthy growth and development (sleep, physical activity, and social engagement). Here are a few helpful tips:

  • Be consistent with screen time limits.
  • Turn the TV off when it is not in use. No background TV, make it a rule.
  • No devices allowed at the table for meals or during family time.
  • Model good screen behavior and healthy behaviors to your child. Put your phone down during family time, get outside with your child to play and exercise.
  • Be involved in your child's life: observe, listen, and ask. Know what is going on at school, know what television shows and games they are interested in, and be interested in and ask questions about their activities.

How to Make the Most of Screen Time

Find out which apps, television shows, movies, or e-books have high-quality programming and material. An hour of a high-quality educational learning application would be more beneficial than an hour of a low-quality television program. Make sure what is being viewed is developmentally appropriate for your child’s age. Finally, don’t forget to take safety into account. Children using the internet need to be aware of internet safety and cyberbullying. Parents also need to be aware of commercials and discuss them with their children, as young children are not able distinguish between advertisements and fact.

Screen Time Alternatives

Offer alternative toys and games. Have a set of nesting cups for your baby to play with in the kitchen or a drawer full of items for them to play with while meals are being prepared. Encourage crafts, reading, puzzles, and board games for older children to occupy themselves when possible. Offer alternative family activities to reduce screen time as well, such as a family bike ride, game night, or reading a book together.

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