Time to Screen Screen-Time
Six hours and 40 minutes. That’s how long the average teenager spends each day in front of a screen, whether it’s a TV, computer, smartphone, or tablet. Children between ages eight and 12 are not far behind, tallying four hours and 36 minutes of daily “screen time.”
Does it matter how much time children and adolescents spend glued to these devices? Yes. Studies have shown that risks to younger children may lead to short- and long-term problems, including:
- Increased rates of obesity.
- Negative effects on sleep.
- Developmental delays, including social-emotional, cognitive, and language problems.
Research is underway to better understand addiction and technology. While no established diagnoses currently exist, it’s clear that excessive screen-media use may become a problem for children and teenagers. It can interfere with relationships, mood, and overall functioning to the point that professional help may be necessary.
Parenting in the Digital Age
With so many options in new technology, your child's involvement does not have to be all or nothing.
Quantity and quality matter
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends against any screen use in children under 18 months, unless it’s for video-chatting. For toddlers who are 18 to 24 months old, time spent in front of screens should be limited to educational activities with an adult. For kids between ages two and five, only one hour of screen time is recommended.
In older children and teens, the AAP also suggests that parents pay closer attention to how the screen media is being used, rather than the hours alone. Access to social media, for example, poses other threats like cyberbullying, sexting, and privacy concerns. It can also provide exposure to risky behaviors like substance use, sexual behaviors, and self-injury.
Just as critical, parents should also consider what activities are being replaced by screen time. When children are losing sleep, exercising less, spending less time outdoors playing, or are cutting back on in-person socializing, it can have a lasting impact.
What’s a parent to do?
- Research. Parents should educate themselves on their child’s use of social media, videos, apps, or games. Ask your child to teach you about a game they play or a show they watch. This way, you can spend time together and get a better understanding of their screen time. If all else fails, this website is also a great online tool for parents. If your child can’t argue in favor of what is on the screen, limiting access may be warranted. For example, some video-chatting apps allow users to randomly connect with strangers. It would be difficult to find a compelling argument to support a child or adolescent using an app that could be quite dangerous.
- Evaluate. Be thoughtful when evaluating what’s right for your child by considering screen time. A good rule is to consider time as “constructive or active” versus “destructive or passive.” For example, an hour spent building a world from scratch in “Minecraft” may be more beneficial than a violent hour spent in “Grand Theft Auto.” For creative kids, an hour spent designing and creating a movie is different than passively watching a DVD.
- Set rules. Establish a “media-use plan” that establishes ground rules for what media your children can access and for how long. Try this resource to develop a plan that works for your family: .
It’s important for parents and children to remember that not all childhood memories need be formed in the glow of a smartphone. Make time for family activities and encourage your child to put down tech gadgets. Instead, work on building meaningful, face-to-face relationships with your family and those around you.