Is screen time bad for kids? Experts reveal how much is too much

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The American Academy of Pediatrics just released new recommendations on screen time for kids. So, how much is too much?

Most kids these days are growing up attached to an electronic device of some kind. In an effort to keep their kids occupied, parents hand a tablet, computer or their own smartphone to their children. A simple look around the mall or trip to the grocery store will quickly reveal that technology has become the object of so many kids’ attention.

But, is this borderline-excessive screen time harmful for vulnerable and developing brains? 

Read more: Why I’m putting my kids through iPad rehab​

Kids these days are spending an average of seven hours a day in front of televisions, computers, phones and other electronic devices, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. But due to the risks of screen time and entertainment media, the AAP recommends kids get less than a third of that. 

So what exactly are the risks? 

The dangers of screen time for healthy development 

Many studies have recently emerged citing the dangers of excessive screen time for developing brains, everything from socialization, to concentration — even speech and writing skills can be hindered. 

A 2014 study from the University of California in Los Angeles found that screen time may be inhibiting their ability to recognize emotions. In the study, sixth-graders were much better at reading human emotions after five days of taking a break from technology. 

‘We really need to be sure that children, and probably older people, are getting enough face-to-face interaction to be competent social beings,’ said Patricia Greenfield, a senior author of the study and a professor of psychology at UCLA.

She continued, ‘Our species evolved in an environment where there was only face-to face-interaction. Since we were adapted to that environment, it’s likely that our skills depend on that environment. If we reduce face-to-face interaction drastically, it’s not surprising that the social skills would also get reduced.’


Read more: Handwriting is still an important skill for kids, according to doctors

Dr. Aric Sigman, an associate fellow of the British Psychological Society and a Fellow of Britain’s Royal Society of Medicine also says that too much screen time is detrimental.

In his words, it ‘is the very thing impeding the development of the abilities that parents are so eager to foster through the tablets. The ability to focus, to concentrate, to lend attention, to sense other people’s attitudes and communicate with them, to build a large vocabulary—all those abilities are harmed.’

And a more recent study underway at the University of Alberta in Canada, finds, ‘the more physical activity children do, the better [their] cognitive development.’ This was according to Valerie Carson, assistant professor of physical education and recreation at the University of Alberta in an interview with the Edmonton Sun.

‘The more time they spend on screens, like tablets and cell phones, tends to be either detrimentally related to their development or not related at all,’ she said. She also cautioned parents about thinking too lightly of electronic devices for learning. 

‘A lot of parents use the screens because they think it will help (kids) prepare better for school. The research isn’t matching up with the marketing that’s out there,’ she said.

But researchers also balance their findings by assuring parents that there are still benefits to technology — in small doses. 

‘The key message is moderation,’ Carson told Canadian news site Metro News. ‘And if parents continue to interact with their children while they’re using those screens, they could potentially negate some of the detrimental effects.’

Marjorie Hogan, a pediatrician at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis and a spokeswoman for the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says of digital media, ‘If used appropriately, it’s wonderful. We don’t want to demonize media, because it’s going to be a part of everybody’s lives increasingly, and we have to teach children how to make good choices around it, how to limit it and how to make sure it’s not going to take the place of all the other good stuff out there.’

Read more: When should your kids get a smartphone?


New screen time guidelines & help for busy parents

If you’re a parent trying to balance life, work and taking care of your kids, it can be difficult to set boundaries limiting screen time. But, due to the risks associated with too much screen time, it’s essential for parents to recognize media’s overwhelming influence on their kids and take appropriate action. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics just released new recommendations and resources that aim to ‘help families maintain a healthy media diet,’ in addition to a tool called the Family Media Use Plan tool. This tool can help parents understand how to best balance media’s influence in their children’s lives, and to also ensure it does not replace other important activities such as ‘face-to-face interaction, family-time, outdoor-play, exercise, unplugged downtime & sleep.’

Megan Moreno, MD, MSEd, MPH, FAAP, lead author of the policy statement on media use in school-aged children and teens expressed the importance of parental influence in setting proper boundaries when it comes to media.

‘Parents play an important role in helping children and teens navigate media, which can have both positive and negative effects,’ she said. ‘Parents can set expectations and boundaries to make sure their children’s media experience is a positive one. The key is mindful use of media within a family.’ 

Updated AAP recommendations

As of October 21, here are the current recommendations for screen media by age from the American Academy of Pediatrics

  • For children younger than 18 months, avoid use of screen media other than video-chatting. Parents of children 18 to 24 months of age who want to introduce digital media should choose high-quality programming, and watch it with their children to help them understand what they’re seeing.
  • For children ages 2 to 5 years, limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programs. Parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them.
  • For children ages 6 and older, place consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health. 
  • Designate media-free times together, such as dinner or driving, as well as media-free locations at home, such as bedrooms.
  • Have ongoing communication about online citizenship and safety, including treating others with respect online and offline.

These guidelines will help parents and kids balance media more effectively in order to improve kids’ lives.

Read more: New way to monitor and cut off a kid’s screen time

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