Parents have been watching for me to share tips on how much screen time is too much screen time for their young children. So let me tune in to this topic and provide some information.
It is true that watching something online or on television can be a great source of education and entertainment, but too much of a good thing can have unhealthy side effects.
For example, too much screen time means too much sitting time and too little exercise time for children and for adults. Too much sitting can also lead to unhealthy snacking behaviors and excess weight gain leading to increased risk of becoming overweight or obese even at a young age. Excess time with digital media can also reduce healthy positive social interactions, decreased time for sleep and reading, and lead to behavioral issues such as aggressiveness.
Recently the American Academy of Pediatrics came out with a revision of their guidelines to help parents and their children develop healthy media-use habits early on. Let me share some highlights.
Screen Time Recommendations for Kids
First, children under 18 months should not be exposed to screen media except for video-chatting with relatives. Parents of children 18- to 24-months who want to allow their children some screen time should choose less than one hour per day of high quality programming or apps and watch them together with their children.
Older children, between ages 2 to 5, should limit screen time as well to no more than one hour per day. Media should be interactive, non-violent, educational and co-viewed or co-played with children. Children also need media-free time with family and friends to enjoy the outdoors, play board games or just read or be read to. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends, and so do I, media-free family dinners and media-free zones such as bedrooms.
Most importantly parents are encouraged to develop personalized media use plans for their children, taking into account their child’s age, health, personality and developmental stage. Your child’s health care professional can help with the design of that plan.
Hopefully tips like these will turn on your young child’s enthusiasm – and yours –for non-screen time activities together, which advance your child’s physical and emotional wellbeing far more than any children’s program or app will do.
Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and WPTZ Channel 5, or visit the First with Kids video archives at www.UVMHealth.org/MedCenterFirstWithKids.