What Is a Healthy Amount of Screen Time for Kids?

Screen time is a term that refers to the increased electronic usage in today’s society. While the term is often used in reference to children, screen time relates to us all. It refers to the amount of time spent in front of TVs, smartphones, computers, digital tablets, and video games. As technology continues to advance, screen time has become a popular topic of discussion amongst medical professionals, educators, and parents. 

Studies have been conducted to determine the possible effects of screen time on childhood development. Is the amount of time spent in front of digital media having an impact on the physical, emotional, and behavioral health of our children? While a direct answer to this question isn’t clear, the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests parents manage how much screen time they allow their children each day.  

Let’s face it; screens are everywhere. Additionally, there are several educational, social, and developmental benefits of controlled screen time. These facts combined present a challenge for today’s parents as they try to control screen time. So, how much screen time is healthy for kids? Here’s everything you need to know about screen time and the steps you can take to maximize brain power, foster healthy habits, and find the best outcome for your children. 

Does Screen Time Affect the Brain? 

The intense focus on screen time comes from today’s technology-driven society, but the topic has been around for a while. Years ago, parents worried about the effects of TV on children. Do you remember your parents telling you not to sit too close to the TV because it would damage your eyes? Let’s not forget the comments circulating about TV melting our brains. As society changes, so do concerns. The main difference today is the additional sources of screen time now that weren’t available years ago. 

Scientists and researchers spent a great deal of time and money exploring the concept of screen addiction. Since accelerated brain development occurs during childhood, most studies focus on the effects of screen time on children. A $300 million project financed by the National Institutes of Health called A.B.C.D., currently follows 11,800 children through adolescence. The study uses annual MRIs to track how childhood experiences affect brain development. Experiences include:

  • Sports
  • Screen time
  • Video game usage
  • Social media usage
  • Unhealthy sleep patterns
  • Smoking
  • Substance abuse
  • Alcohol and drug use
  • Concussions

Since the adolescent brain is continuously changing and rewiring itself, researchers believe there is a direct link between these experiences and the social, emotional, behavioral, academic, and health outcomes for children. The final results of this long-term study are not yet available. But, it has been suggested that the amount of time children spend in front of a screen does affect their health and brain development. Like anything in life (sleep, sports, homework, demographics, childhood experiences), the brain is affected by what we expose it to regularly. 

Health Issues Linked to the Amount of Time Screen Time for Kids

The main reason the AAP suggests parents limit their children’s screen time is the link between digital media usage and health issues. Children with heavy digital media usage may be at a higher risk for the following problems:

  • Obesity. Since extended screen time interferes with physical activity, children who engage in heavy digital media usage are at a higher risk of becoming obese. Additionally, heavy screen time usage has been linked to mindless snacking and overeating. 
  • Sleep disorders. The blue light emitted from screens stimulates the brain. Children who watch TV, use a smartphone, computer, or iPad or play video games within an hour of bedtime may experience difficulty falling asleep. Since some parents allow kids to fall asleep with the TV on, blue lights from the TV can also lead to poor sleep quality. 
  • Heart health issues. The American Heart Association links long periods of screen time to cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol, and other health issues due to the sedentary behavior associated with sitting in front of a screen. 
  • Mental health issues. Long periods in front of a screen have been linked to an increase in anxiety and depression. Since screens often replace healthy human interaction, heavy digital media usage can also lead to a loss of social skills. 
  • Safety issues. For children left unsupervised, screen time can provide access to inappropriate content and pose a risk to your child’s safety. 
  • Missed opportunities. Finally, today’s kids are said to have a screen time obsession. This gives them less time to play, interact with peers and family, and participate in ordinary childhood experiences that foster healthy behavioral, social, emotional, and physical development. 

The Pros of Screen Time for Children

When it comes to screen time, it’s important to understand that some use is healthy and beneficial to children. That’s why the AAP recommends a maximum screen time allowance. The pros and cons of screen time usage depend on the individual viewing habits of each child. On the plus side, screen time:

  • Provides social networks for those with developmental differences or a history of abuse
  • Introduces children to ideas, information, current events, and health education
  • Offers the opportunity to connect with people you might not have met without the availability of digital communication
  • Aids with research and developments of advances in health, business, technology, and other areas
  • Is a source of creativity in music and artwork

Recommended Screen Time for Children

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following screen time limits:

  • Children under 2 years of age should have no screen time allowance, except to interact through video calls. 
  • Children ages 2 through 5 should be limited to 1 hour of screen time a day. Screen time should focus on music, movement, and stories.
  • Children over the age of 5 should be limited to 2 hours of screen time a day. 

As a rule of thumb, parents should keep in mind that screen time should never replace the time needed for sleeping, eating, studying, human interaction, and physical activity. 

iCare ER & Urgent Care Tips for a Healthy Family Media Plan

It might be difficult to decrease the amount of screen time for your children at first, especially if you haven’t set limits before. That’s why we’ve put together some tips to help you create a healthy media plan for your family!

  • Have a meeting to talk about the effects of heavy digital media usage on your children. Educate your children about the dangers of the internet. Talk about acceptable games, videos, and media platforms that meet your family values. Set your expectations clearly and create a set of rules around screen time. You can even create a family media plan online here
  • Know the type of content your children are consuming. Supervise their screen time as much as possible – preview programs, games, and shows before you permit them to use them. You can get reviews about age-appropriate apps, games, and programs here. Set strict parental controls, and don’t give your children access to your passwords.
  • Be consistent. You can use apps that shut down with a timer or use apps like Apple Night that automatically turn down blue light after sunset. Chart usage. Set media-free zones in your home, like the dinner table or bedroom. Make your children charge their devices in a central location. Remove TVs, computers, and devices from bedrooms. Treat screen time something that is earned, not as a right of childhood. Remember, you shouldn’t use screen time as an emotional pacifier to keep your kids calm and quiet.  
  • Provide healthy alternatives and a variety of different options. Encourage outdoor play and face-to-face interaction with peers and family. Sign up your children for organized physical activities. Find new activities to try as a family, like walking, bike riding, or playing games. 
  • Lead by example. Cut back on your own screen time allowance. Spend time with your children. Prioritize unplugging for the whole family. Finally, remember that kids will be kids. Getting used to these new rules and changes in their daily routine will be hard. They’ll probably break the rules and make some mistakes. Find teachable moments that help your whole family stick to the plan. 

If you have questions or concerns limiting your child’s screen time, talk to your pediatrician or visit one of our medical care providers. iCare ER & Urgent Care is here to address all your health concerns when you need us most. Our experienced, compassionate medical team is focused on the quality of care we deliver by thorough, friendly, resourceful healthcare providers. To discuss how we can address your medical concerns and give you the assistance you need to feel happy and healthy, give us a call today at (214) 407-8668! 

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