Screen Time for Children

by Warren Berkowitz

As a local special-education administrator, I had the privilege of helping parents deal with the many challenges of raising their children to be healthy and responsible citizens. One of the most difficult issues for today’s parents is regulating their child’s screen time.

How much screen time is enough? Too much? What kind of media is appropriate for children of different ages and maturity? What kinds of media should be avoided? In a world where families are inundated with media, screens seem to be everywhere—at school, in stores, in the car, on phones, at the gas pumps. It is becoming very difficult and frustrating for parents to monitor a child’s screen time. Regulating screen time can become a major source of conflict for parents and children.

A recent study shows that the average 8- to 10-year-old spends nearly 8 hours a day on screens with different media, and older children and teens spend more than 11 hours per day. Kids who have a TV in their bedroom spend more time with media, as do kids with their own cell phones. What are some of the effects of all this screen time?

While research indicates that “pro-social media” can help kids learn facts, empathy, and some interpersonal skills, there are negative aspects as well. Children learn to talk and communicate through interactions with other people. Every minute that your child spends in front of a screen is one fewer minute that he or she could spend learning from your interactions and developing language skills. And stimulation from video games can interrupt a child’s sleep patterns. All children, even teens, should get 8 to 10 hours of sleep every night.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has issued its latest recommendations for children’s screen time with age-specific guidelines—”Beyond Screen Time: A Parent’s Guide to Media Use”. The recommendations can serve as a guide for parents in developing family rules and policies governing screen time. The AAP also plans to launch an online tool that parents can use to create a family media plan based on each family’s unique values and lifestyle.

First and foremost, parents need to set a good example of modeling appropriate media use for their children. Parents need to feel empowered to monitor and regulate the type of media and the time children spend on media. By taking an active role in selecting age appropriate media, as well as actively participating in the viewing of media with their child, parents can talk to their child about what they are experiencing. Parents can help each child understand the safety issues related to online media. With active participation and encouragement, parents can help their children develop responsible attitudes and safe practices around the use of media.
What parents can do! Limit entertainment screen time to less than one or two hours per day; in children under 2, discourage screen media exposure. Make a screen or media use plan, including mealtime and bedtime curfews for media devices. After school, children should have at least an hour of playtime, preferably outside in nature, before doing homework or having screen time. The supper table should be a screen-free zone for parents and children. An hour before bedtime, children should be screen-free, and screens should be kept out of kids’ bedrooms. Take an active role in children’s media education by co-viewing programs with them and discussing values.

Your Health Matters is a monthly health column by Healthy Peninsula and the Blue Hill Memorial Hospital. Warren Berkowitz is a retired educator, having been a public school teacher, principal, and district administrator for 40 years. Berkowitz is also a member of the Healthy Peninsula Board of Directors.