How Much is Too Much for Your Kids?

Raising kids can be a struggle. Figuring out how to handle screen time can too. There’s a lot of conflicting information about how much screen time is too much, and, according to local professionals, finding a balance can be difficult for parents.

Did you know American children spend a whopping seven hours a day in front of electronic media? Statistics from the US Department of Health and Human Services also report kids as young as two regularly play games on Ipads or other toys with touch screens.

Though there are advantages to screen time, including educational and social benefits, research shows there are significant developmental risks, too, from stunting of the frontal lobe impacting a child’s ability to decode and comprehend social interactions, to the way in which a child’s brain interprets stimuli and instant gratification, to eye problems to name a few.

For this reason, in 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics released suggested guidelines for screen time, recommending children younger than 18 months avoid the use of screen media, while kids between 2 and 5 limit use to one hour per day. For kids 6 and older, parents are encouraged to place consistent limits on types of media as well as monitor their digital media use.

Dr. Barry Wohl, pediatrician at Northeast Wyoming Pediatric Associates, has an appreciation for the benefits that screen time can offer, but he recommends that families be aware of their screen use and how it can affect other aspects of family life.

Dr. Wohl recommends parent education available at from the American Academy of Pediatrics. The site has an interactive family media planning tool that makes it easy to set up a family schedule, including screen time.

“If you want to be a family,” Dr. Wohl said, “You have to make time to be a family. Make a list of activities you do together, like reading, walking and bicycling.”

Rather than prescribe a certain limit on device use, he said families should plan the quality time they want to have together first and then see where screen time fits in.

“Don’t ever think screen time can be the bulk of what you do,” said Dr. Wohl.

Other professionals who work with kids in the area agree with Wohl on keeping the emphasis on other parts of life. According to Rebecca Atterbury, a counselor at Sheridan Jr. High School, innovation is stymied by boredom. Without play and exploration, she said, creativity is stifled.

Sarah Mentock, Executive Director of Science Kids, said that she sees a lot more kids on screens this year than she did just a few years ago. Once rare, she said, more 12-year-olds now have phones than those who don’t. She says she has also seen a rise in inappropriate search content.

“Prior to two years ago, we had no problems,” Mentock said.

Dr. Wohl agreed.

“It’s a big topic to cope with,” he said. “You would like to say no screens, but that’s not practical.”

That said, along with the dangers of too much screen time, it is important not to gloss over the benefits that screen time can provide, Dr. Wohl pointed out.

“The access to information that people have in our world today is unparalleled,” he said, noting the distinction between positive and negative uses.

As with many things in life, he added, balance is important. Screens are not completely good or completely bad. They can have beneficial uses, and they can get in the way. The important thing is not that each family follow strictly prescribed screen-time schedules, but that each family find a balance that works for them.

Time spent using media

Children and adolescents’ use of media has greatly increased in the past 5 – 10 years, which has been documented in numerous Kaiser Family Foundation Studies. The most recent 2010 report regarding behavior of 2,000  8 – 18-year- olds showed the average child spent:

  7.5 hours each day using media, but due to multi-tasking crammed 10.75 hours into that timeframe 

  4.39 hours viewing television

  2.31 hours listening to music

  1.29 hours using computers

  1.13 hours playing video games

  40 hours each week accessing the internet from their home computers.

Various forms of media

In 2011, the American Academy of Pediatrics reported:

  75 percent of adolescents owned a cell phone

  25 percent use the phone for accessing social media

  22 percent of adolescents log on to social media more than 10 times a day.

  Adolescents use their cell phones more for texting rather than for live conversation and sent 3364 texts per month, with one-third of adolescents stating they sent more than 100 texts per day.

Parental rules regarding media

Most children and adolescents live in homes where there are no parental rules regarding screen time.  In one study, less than 30 percent of children and adolescents 8 – 18 years of age stated there were household rules regarding time spent viewing television. Parents were more likely to have rules regarding programs viewed—but even so, only 46 percent of these children and adolescents stated there were such rules in their home.  In this same study, 64 percent of those surveyed stated the television in their homes was left on during meals, and 45 percent stated the television was left on most of the time.

Source: American College of Pediatricians

By: Kevin M. Knapp


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