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Is Too Much Screen Time a Bad Thing?

Screen time can be a lifesaver for a busy parent. It can occupy kids while you make dinner, clean up, or tend to other children; it can also act as a fun reward when your child has accomplished something; and it can introduce your child to a world of imaginative stories.

But how much screen time should your children actually have? And is too much screen time a bad thing?

What Is Screen Time?

Screen time is an overarching term that refers to any time spent in front of a TV, a tablet, or a phone. Whether your child is watching a show, playing a video game, or messing around in an app, that’s screen time.

Screen time is a concerning issue for many parents, as they try to safely navigate their children through a world that increasingly relies on screens. According to Common Sense Media, 59% of parents think their children are addicted to screens, and 66% think their kids spend too much time on screens.

Average Screen Time

Screen time use is rapidly increasing. Time on mobile devices for 8-year-old children has tripled from 2013-2017, from an average of 15 minutes to 48 minutes a day. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that children ages 8-10 spend an average of 6 hours a day in front of a screen; kids aged 11-14 spend 9 hours a day on average in front of a screen; and kids ages 15-18 spend 7.5 hours a day in front of a screen.

The Downsides of Screen Time

Too much screen time can have a wide range of negative effects. Studies have found that more screen time is associated with lower well-being for children ages 2-17. One study found that more than one hour of screen time a day was associated with “lower psychological well-being, less curiosity, lower self-control, more distractibility, difficulty making friends, less emotional stability, being more difficult to care for, and inability to finish tasks.” These downsides were more prevalent in adolescents than in younger children.

Dr. Victoria L. Dunckley, writing in Psychology Today, says that she observes many children who suffer from “sensory overload, lack of restorative sleep, and a hyperaroused nervous system” – something she calls electronic screen syndrome. She describes these children as impulsive, moody, and unable to pay attention – and she credits that to too much screen time. In fact, she writes that multiple studies have found that internet/gaming addiction can actually cause atrophy, or shrinking, of your brain’s gray and white matter and cortical thickness. This can lead to everything from affecting executive functioning to impaired cognitive functioning. So it’s a serious issue.

Recommendations

The American Academy of Pediatrics makes the following recommendations for the amount of time your children should be spending in front of the screen each day:

  • For children under 18 months, limit screen time to video chatting with friends and family
  • For children 18-24 months, only expose them to high quality media, and watch alongside them to help them understand
  • For children 2-5 years, limit them to 1 hour per day of high quality programs, and watch alongside them to help them make real world connections
  • For children 6 and older, establish consistent limits for time spent on media, and be sure that screen time doesn’t get in the way of sleep, physical activity, or time spent with others

How to Reduce Screen Time

It can be hard to cut down on the amount of screen time in your home. Here are some recommendations.

  • Practice what you preach. Parents, you should be spending a maximum of 2 hours a day in front of a screen, too.
  • Track how much time your children are spending in front of a screen compared to how much time they spend outside/engaged in physical activity. These need to be balanced.
  • Treat screen time like a privilege. Screen time should be something your kids can earn by doing chores, engaging in physical activity, or meeting some other kind of requirement.
  • Keep screens out of your children’s rooms at night.
  • Teach prioritization. Don’t allow screens until homework or other household responsibilities are completed.
  • Set clear expectations. Let your kids know exactly how much time they have each day, and then be sure to enforce that rule.

How do you manage screen time in your home?

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