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Screen Time



A few decades ago children had three channels on a TV that may or may not have had a remote, and dad was watching the game on it, anyway.  After cable became common, children had more options, and maybe an extra TV to watch it on, but they had to be in the room with the TV to watch it.  Nowadays, children have not only a multitude of options of shows, videos, and games to watch or play, they also have many options of screens to watch them on, and can use them almost anywhere.  For our youngest children, those below 5, this can be a problem.


 

What we mean by screen time.

Screen time includes TV, computer, phone, tablet, and anything else that may include a screen.  It doesn’t matter if the child is watching with or without their caregiver, it all counts towards screen time.


 

What we mean by media.

In this essay, media is anything that is shown on screens.  This includes games, apps, TV, movies, and books.


 

Why can it be a problem? 

There are a variety of effects too much screen time can have on children.  

 

Development-Especially in the first two years, social skills, speech, fine motor, and gross motor skills can be delayed.  A lot of it has to do with not actually practicing those skills with other humans, which is very important at that age.  

 

Health-Too much screen time, especially in the evenings, can lead to decreased sleep.  Children who sit and watch screens instead of playing not only lose developmentally, they can also become overweight.

 

Self regulation-It can be difficult to deal with bored or crying children, but if every time that happens they are given a screen, they will not learn to navigate discomfort, learn how to be bored, or develop good emotional regulation.

 

Vision-Just like in adults, too much screen time can cause dry eyes and can stress eye muscles.  May also be one of the causes of increased nearsightedness in kids.

 

Bad choices-Children may copy other children posting online who do dangerous stunts or have unhealthy behaviors.  Also, if not careful with your protections, they may buy or order things on games and apps.

 

Danger-Children may unintentionally see distressing content, and can be stalked by unsavory people.  Older children may be exposed to cyberbullying. 


 

Ways screens are helpful.

Educational shows and apps-Not everything in the educational section is actually educational.  Look for something that not only gives basic information, but also uses it in some way.  Sites like Common Sense Media can help you determine which shows and apps may be good for your child.

 

Familial-Things like Zoom and Facetime have allowed family members far away to keep in touch much better than before.  

 

Social-Screens allow children to investigate the world, and can allow them to meet and talk with those with similar interests that may not be available where they live.


 

How much is okay?

  • Under 18 months-Ideally, no screen time other than video calls.

  • 18 to 24 months-An hour or less a day of truly educational or interactive media watched with a caregiver.

  • 24 months to 5 years-An hour or less a day of high quality media.

  • Over 5 years-Since everyone’s needs and uses of media are different, pediatricians recommend a Family Media Plan that all members of the family can discuss and follow.  It takes multiple factors into account, and helps you make the best choice for your family.   

 

Be a good example.

Manage your own screen time so that your child can see you doing other activities.  Use this time to enjoy your child without screens being a distraction.  Or watch something together and then discuss it.  

 

Bottom line.

Like most things in life, screens and media have the possibility of having a good or bad impact on your child depending on how they’re used.  Use them when needed, but put them away otherwise. 


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