In today’s increasingly digital world, children are surrounded by computers, tablets, smartphones, smartwatches and TVs, and screen time is unavoidable.
Teachers and parents know they should limit screen time. But how much? What counts as screen time? To complicate matters, schoolwork can require interacting with digital devices. It is almost impossible to avoid screens in all grade levels, starting as young as preschool.
CNN’s “New Screen Time Rules for Kids, by Doctors” states that the previous guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics have suggested limiting TV time to two hours. However, Dr. Yolanda Reid Chassiakos, author of “Children and Adolescents and Digital Media Technical Report,” says that one rule does not work for everyone. For some children, two hours of TV can be too much.
Side Effects of Too Much Screen Time
With screens pervading every aspect of children’s lives, is it really harmful to spend too much time in front of them?
Numerous studies correlate increased screen time with these side effects:
- Obesity: Interacting with screens is typically a sedentary activity, which can lead to weight gain from a lack of movement or from poor dietary choices based on foods seen in ads.
- Sleep problems: Screens have electronic magnetic fields (EMFs) that can affect the sleep cycle.
- Mental health problems: The authors of “Dose-Response Association of Screen Time-based Sedentary Behaviour in Children and Adolescents and Depression” link higher screen time to mental health issues including depression, anxiety, mood disorders and ADHD.
- Educational problems: A study published in the Canadian Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry connects increased screen time with poorer academic performance.
- Social problems: A University of California, Los Angeles study has found that sixth graders who went five days without looking at a screen read emotions better than those who had access to digital devices.
Spending too much time with digital devices has been connected to behavior problems, a greater likelihood of solving problems with violence, impaired cognitive development and more. The evidence highlights the need to monitor children’s time with digital devices at home and at school.
Recommendations for Screen Time
Because it’s important for children to have a balanced digital diet, educators need to review their students’ screen time and the usage of tablets and computers in the classroom. They will want to ensure sufficient time for face-to-face interactions to help students develop social skills.
To limit screen time, parents and educators can specify times and locations for the use of digital devices. Examples of media-free zones and times include the cafeteria and specific classroom areas at school and dinnertime and bedrooms at home.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting entertainment screen time to one hour per day for children aged 2 to 5 years. Children younger than 18 months should not have any screen time. Rather than set a time limit for children ages 6 and older, the AAP advises implementing consistent limits on time spent and the types of media used. Media consumption should not replace physical activity, sleep and social interactions.