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Screen Time and Children: What’s the Best Approach?

February 9, 2023

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If you’re a parent in the 21st century, you face a problem the last generation of parents never dealt with: screen time. As with anything in the realm of parenting, there are varying stances on the topic. Do you limit it? Use it as a reward or punishment? And what’s included in the definition of “screen”?

There are plenty of opinions when it comes to screen time, but most professionals concur that there are plenty of negatives to spending too much time in front of a phone, tablet, computer, or TV. There are also some benefits.

The Issues with Screen Time

No matter how old a person is—from infancy to old age—too much of anything is often just too much. Such is the case with screen time. Sitting in front of the TV or playing games on an iPad means you’re not walking or playing, and that can lead to obesity. Attention spans are tested by spending a lot of time in front of a screen. And we’ve all heard what blue light can do to our ability to fall asleep and get restful sleep.

That’s not all, though. An overabundance of screen time can lead to cognitive issues as well. Harvard Medical School reports that digital play can lead to “impoverished” brain development. When kids aren’t bored, they don’t think on their own; serving them up an endless menu of activities means their brains aren’t stretched to create. The immediate reward of staring at screens all day can, at its worst, lead to addiction issues and an obsession with devices.

How Much Is Too Much?

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children younger than two years of age should not have access to screens at all. They further encourage parents to limit the screen time of older children to one to two hours a day. Is that practical? Some parents may say absolutely, while others will argue that their children are learning from TV or an iPad. Still others may need the quiet that comes from distracting a child with a phone or other screen.

Remember that screen time isn’t really good for any of us—regardless of our age. While many adults spend their working hours in front of a computer, Reid Health reports that no more than two hours outside of work should be spent in front of a TV, phone, computer, or tablet.

To put that into perspective, adults currently spend an average of 11 hours per day in front of a screen, and that number skyrocketed to 19 hours during the pandemic lockdown. Children aged 8 to 18, as reported by the CDC, average 7.5 hours of each day in front of a screen, and nearly half of that is TV time. For the younger crowd, Common Sense Media tallied 49 minutes a day for infants to age two, 2.5 hours for children aged two to four, and a little more than three hours for those aged five to eight.

Benefits of Screen Time

With all this negativity surrounding the topic, experts agree screen time is not all bad. Even infants can interact through video calls with family, which became the norm during lockdowns. Likewise, virtual learning was a regular occurrence throughout 2020 and 2021, which helped many children stay on track while they were home.

There are other potential benefits of screen time for children, according to Parents. Interacting with others can improve socialization, some games teach critical-thinking skills, educational games and ebooks may help with school readiness in younger children, and hand-eye coordination and fine-motor skills are part and parcel of pushing those little buttons.

Committed to Your Children’s Wellbeing

We all know that life happens but being mindful about the amount of screen time your children are exposed to can only benefit them—and you. When you put down the devices and turn off the TV, you build relationships, communicate more, and try something new. You can take a walk together, go for a bike ride, or roast marshmallows in the backyard. Instead of watching others, why not experience those adventures yourselves?

Community Choice Pediatrics is committed to helping your children grow up healthy and happy. If we can answer your questions about screen time or become your trusted pediatrician, we’re here for you. Contact us to schedule an appointment today.