Screen Time and Your Child – How to Monitor, Collaborate and Build a Healthy Relationship Around It
Susan Prill-Wallace, LLMSW
During the current crisis we are all experiencing, you may notice that your children are participating in more screen time than you realized. The following explains recommendations based on your child’s age, and the implications of too much screen time.
The American Academy for Pediatrics recommends no screen time at all until a child reaches the age of twenty-four months, unless it is video chatting. Children age two to five years should not exceed one hour per day. A 2014 study found that children age two years and under average more than three hours per day and children age three to five years average approximately two and a half hours per day in the United States.
Research has indicated reasons for increased screen use include: lacking affordable entertainment options for children, parents feeling exhausted, parents needing to get things done without interruption and unfavorable weather for outdoor activities.
Studies have shown that increased screen time between the ages of twenty-four to thirty-six months is linked to poorer performances in screening tests for behavioral, cognitive and social development at age thirty-six months.
A 2005 review found that children age two years and younger were consistently less likely to learn from television viewing versus live interaction with an individual. Deficits were recognized in imitation tasks, language learning and emotional learning. There have been dozens of studies completed which show that children learn better from a person who is face-to-face with them, rather than a person who is on a screen, even if it is the same person doing the same thing.
A 2019 report states that children age eight to twelve years use screens an average of four hours and forty-four minutes per day, and teenagers age thirteen to eighteen for seven hours and twenty-two minutes per day. These numbers do not include any screen time for school related work at school or at home.
Correlational studies have shown that children age eight to eleven years who exceed screen time recommendations score lower on cognitive assessments. When excessive screen time and a lack of sleep occur, it has been associated with increased impulsivity.
The best mental health and outcomes in teens appears when there is one hour of physical activity each day, eight to ten hours of sleep per day and screens are utilized recreationally for less than two hours each day. More time spent watching television per day is associated with a higher body mass index, and screen time use over two hours each day has been linked with depressive symptoms.
The number one recommendation for parents is to spend time engaging with your children. While it is important to let children self regulate, and allow them screen time, parents and their children should collaborate and negotiate limits and boundaries related to screen time. Parents are urged to view what their children are viewing on the screen at different times, communicate with their children about it and build a healthy relationship around it.
Now is the time to talk to your children and help them manage their time. Especially during the current situation, it is dangerously easy to fall into excessive screen time. Pay attention, and work together with your family to avoid the implications of too much screen time. Your involvement may very well save your child from harmful mental or physical health issues in the future.
Pappas, S. (2020). What do we really know about kids and screens? Monitor on Psychology, 42 – 48.