Staying on Top of Screens

screen time for kids

With the middle of summer approaching, it can be easy for kids to spend more time in front of screens while school is out. The mental health providers at UnityPoint Health – Meriter offer some tips on how to best limit screen time and how much screen time is appropriate for kiddos by age range.

What is Screen Time?

Screen time consists of time that kids and teens spend looking at any electronic devices, either passively or actively. These are typically TVs, computers, tablets or smartphones.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has done extensive studies on the positive and negative effects associated with screen time. The research shows that excessive screen time can negatively affect children and adolescent’s sleep, self-esteem, ability to socially interact with others and their mental health. But that doesn’t mean we should simply cut out screen time altogether. Research also found that electronic media used in moderation can have a positive impact, such as increased feelings of support and social connections.

Managing a child’s screen time can be challenging for some families, especially during school breaks or busy times. So, what are the recommendations?

  • For children 18 to 24 months, screen time should be limited to watching educational programming with a caregiver.
  • For children ages 2 to 5, it’s best to limit non-educational screen time to about one hour per weekday, and three hours on weekend days.
  • For ages 6 and older, it’s best to encourage healthy habits and limit screen-related activities.
  • Screen time shouldn’t interfere with sleep times or routines. Turn off screens and remove them from bedrooms 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime. It’s also important to note that excessive screen time during the day can affect sleep.
  • Screen time should not interfere with the following: physical activity, basic responsibilities (chores, homework) or important school activities (clubs or community involvement).
  • Avoid using screens to stop tantrums or as a soothing tool for babies.
  • Families should designate media-free times and “unplugged areas” in their homes. An example could be during mealtimes and at the dinner table.

Do Caregivers Need to Use Screens Less Too?

Research does show that kids and teens develop their screen time habits from their caregivers. Caregiver media use could also negatively affect a caregiver-child social interactions or connections. It’s recommended that caregivers follow similar healthy habits and unplugged area guide- lines along with their kids.

Some additional tips to keep in mind:

  • Familiarize yourself with programming to make sure it is age appropriate.
  • Talk to your child about what they are seeing — point out good behavior or make connections to meaningful events or places of interest.
  • Encourage your child to learn other activities such as sports, music, art or hobbies that do not involve screens.
  • Consider your child or teen’s maturity and habits. The right plan for one family may not be a good fit for another.

If you are concerned about your child’s screen time, talk to your primary care provider.

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