Written by Doctor G

Screen time – Do I need to limit it? Part 1: The challenge!

Screen Time – both the 2 yo and the 12 yo are ADDICTED to screens, phones, ipads, computers, tv’s etc. If they aren’t on one thing they are on another. The 2yo will scream at me for the ipad and the 12yo will sneak off into her room only for me to find her on her laptop streaming videos. Despite all of these screens I do love how much it captivates my tots when I need to cook dinner or do some work of my own (on a screen) I do not know how to limit this anymore and it almost easier to just let them rot their brains…. advice?

Lecia, in NYC, NY

A: OK, I think you are really asking two questions.  The obvious one is “How?” How can you limit screen time in these technologically savvy children?  The more important question seems to be “Why?”  Why should you bother having this battle when it does benefit you some and they like it so much?

So let’s talk about “Why?” first, as it motivates the “How.”

Why should we unplug our kids?  This is not such an intuitive answer.  As we parents become more plugged in, as schools become more tech-focused and work, friendships, hobbies are pursued with the aid of screens, is it even appropriate to hold these away from children like soda or junk food or CosmoGirl magazine?

Short answer? Yes.  Although screen time teaches our kids fine motor skills and the ability to navigate the world that they will need increasingly as they grow, it is not without significant dangers.

The sad fact is, kids can be damaged by too much screen time.  According to a large number of highly respected studies, including one published in Pediatrics in late 2010, more than 2 hours of screen time(not including homework) in children and adolescents is associated with a lot of badness.  Obesity.  Depressive symptoms (even in preschoolers).  Poor peer relationships.  Increased incidence of ADHD. Inability to overcome boredom.  Behavior changes.  Poor behavior as rated by parents and caregivers.  Less school success.

Several big research studies have shown that the majority of preschoolers in this country are getting at least 4 hours a day of screen time and that this number goes up as children get older. 
So here is my challenge to you and all of my readers:  Over the next two days, keep track of how much screen time your little one is getting.  You DO NOT need to tell anyone what you learn.  Look at the stopwatch feature on your phone, usually you can use it to start and stop and then restart without setting it back to 0:00.  Try to add up the total of DVD, computer, TV, smart phone, I-everything (Pad, Pod, Phone) time. And if they are in childcare at all, that screen time counts also.

Come on back on Sunday and, if she topped 2 hours per day, check out some suggestions for reducing the time.

Oh, and one safety note that is not about screen time as much as screen placement.  Please do not let your daughter take the computer to her room or use it unsupervised.  Having her screen where you can see it easily and often helps prevent everything from internet predators to cyber-bullying as well as her randomly (or intentionally) finding something age-inappropriate.

The sum up answer is this: it is worth the battle to limit our childrens’ time in front of electronic screens.   Like my mom used to say: Everything in moderation.  Whether it is candy or potato chips or souvenirs at the zoo, our kids WANT and it is up to us to set healthy limits.

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1 thought on “Screen time – Do I need to limit it? Part 1: The challenge!”

  1. OK, you picked the wrong week to ask this, Debi! My boys are at computer programming camp…

    That said, I should note that while it’s a 9 to 5 camp day, as far as I can tell only about 4 hours are spent in front of the screen — programming games, trying out the games their peers created, etc. The rest is social interaction, sports, and the like.

    The best part, though, is that while they always ask for screen time at home during the school year (and I should note that we usually limit it to fewer than 4 hours a WEEK, Wii and television included), they know they’ve had more than enough this week and are perfectly content to play “unplugged” games in the morning and evening. Stuff like “catch” with dad in the backyard. Warms the heart (and gets the blood flowing). 🙂

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