Wired Children: Screen Time Linked to Poorer Health

Screen time has a powerful effect on both children and adults. Decreasing screen time for adults is a bit complicated, as many of us work on computers and have to be in front of a screen for a good portion of our work day. Decreasing screen time for children, who don't have inboxes to tend to and spreadsheets to create, is a bit simpler: Lay down the law and set limits. 

Parents are in charge of setting limits on digital media for kids and teens, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). They suggest that kids include time for the following in a healthy day: school time, homework time, at least one hour of physical activity, social contact and sleep (which is anywhere from eight to 12 hours for kids). Then, whatever time in the day is left can be screen time. The Academy encourages parents to be their child's 'media mentor.' That means teaching their children how to use media as a tool to create, connect and learn.

Kids and teens have access to thousands of apps, film streaming sites, video games and social media on multiple devices, from personal smart phones to public school-issued tablets. The Academy recommends that families designate "media-free” times together, such as during dinner or while driving, as well as “media-free” locations at home, such as bedrooms. With phones off the dinner table, families can have face-to-face conversations, which are essential for children's development. Parents benefit from media-free practices, too. Face-to-face interactions with family members create more intimate bonds, and tech-free bedrooms can promote better sleep.

Limiting screen time may not be as easy as it sounds, since screens can be addictive, particularly for young children. In May 2013, "internet use disorder" (IUD) was added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association. In order to be added to the manual, research had to demonstrate not only that screen time can become a regular habit that has the potential to disrupt daily life, but also that there is neurological evidence to back up that claim.

The Academy of Pediatrics estimates that the average child spends seven hours of their day looking at a screen, including video games, computers, cell phones, and/or televisions.

The Academy recommends that children limit screen time (the hours spent in front of a TV, computer or any other screen for recreational purposes) to no more than two hours per day and TV is not recommended for children under age 2.

Ways to decrease screen time:

  • Remove the television or computer from your child’s bedroom.
  • Do not allow TV watching during meals or homework.
  • Do not let your child eat while watching TV or using the computer.
  • Do not leave the TV on for background noise. Turn on the radio instead, or have no background noise.
  • Decide which programs to watch ahead of time, and turn off the TV when the program is over.
  • Suggest other activities, such as a family board game, puzzle, or going for a walk.
  • Keep a record of how much time is spent in front of a screen. Try to spend the same amount of time being active.
  • Be a good role model as a parent. Decrease your own recreational screen time to 2 hours a day.
  • Challenge your family to go 1 week (or even one day) without watching TV or doing other screen-time activities. Find things to do with your time that get you moving and burning energy