Computers, phones, tablets, television, and video games, oh my! Technology is a major source of entertainment, learning, and socializing for children. Kids can develop important connections by chatting with long distance friends or relatives. Digital devices also allow kids to develop languages and learn new skills, especially when parents are involved in the screen time with their kids. Too much screen time, however, can cause a variety of issues for children.
Research has shown that kids who spend more than two hours using some type of screen are more likely to become overweight or obese. But there have also been studies showing an increase in body mass index (BMI) for every additional hour of screen time, so limiting screen time to less than two may be better. Kids who spend too much time looking at screens also tend to sleep less and have poorer quality sleep. Finally, kids who consume more media on their screens have also been shown to have less self-esteem.
The tricky part in all of this is to find the right balance. We want to make sure kids get the opportunity to learn and engage, but not set them up for future problems. The American Academy of Pediatrics has made recommendations that parents can use to strike the right screen time balance with their kids. For children ages:
- 18 months or younger: Avoid screen time, unless for video chatting, which can help with language development
- 18-24 months: Allow some screen time, but limit it to high quality programs
- 2-5 years: Limit screen time to one hour per day
- 6 years and older: Set consistent screen time rules.
In general you want to make sure screen time doesn’t interfere with physical activity or sleep.
The AAP also offers some tips and tools that parents can use to set screen time boundaries. By going to their website and creating a personalized media plan, you can develop your own set of family guidelines for media use. The AAP also recommends using Common Sense Media to learn about games, apps, movies, and TV shows. This website gives great information about different types of media to help parents figure out if they are age appropriate for their child. Another recommendation from AAP is to talk to children about dangers they might find online. Children may have a difficult time identifying the best privacy settings to use and avoiding online predators!
As always, it is important to keep in mind that no one is perfect! There are going to be days where kids spend too much time with their screens or do something online that they shouldn’t do. It’s a learning process for the parents and the kids! The most important thing is to try to help kids engage with media and screens in positive ways as often as possible.