Children and Screen Time: How Much Is Too Much?

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children and screen time: how much is too much?
Is your child spending too much time on the iPad?
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It’s unbelievable how quickly a toddler learns how to navigate an iPad. Technology has become so intuitive that it’s gravitating to children of all ages.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following screen time guidelines, and I’ll explain why:

“Children and teens should engage with entertainment media for no more than one or two hours per day, and that should be high-quality content.

“Television and other entertainment media should be avoided for infants and children under age 2.

Notice the first recommendation includes “high-quality content”.

Just like food, you can consume healthy, nutrient-rich foods like spinach, or you can eat cookies. Both are indeed “food”, but at the end of the day, the cookie will have more negative effects than the spinach. The same is true for media consumption.

Screen time can be educational…

A study published by the Journal of Children and Media looked at the relationship between preschooler’s exposure to the cartoon Daniel Tigers Neighborhood (a spinoff of Mister Rogers Neighborhood), parent-child conversations about the media, and indicators of social and emotional development.

What the researchers found was that preschoolers were more empathetic, confident, and more able to recognize emotions “when their regular TV-watching experiences are frequently accompanied by active mediation.”

So that means some shows can provide valuable lessons for a child, but only when you, as a parent, are actively engaging with them.

…but it can also hinder development

Another study looked at the results that fast-paced cartoons have on kids. That study, published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, found that fast-paced television cartoons “could at least temporarily impair young children’s executive function”, compared to educational cartoons. Among the sixty 4-year-olds in the study, those who were shown a 9-minute fast-paced television cartoon “performed significantly worse on the executive function tasks than children in the other 2 groups”.

During the first two years of a child’s life, the brain develops most rapidly. It’s at this time that children significantly gear their brains for the rest of their life. Children learn from human interaction, so replacing interaction with a screen, even for moments at a time for children under two, “has lasting negative effects on children’s language development, reading skills, and short-term memory.”

In addition, studies show the more a child watches TV, the more likely they are to gain excess weight. Psychiatrist Victoria L. Dunckley has also observed many children suffering from “sensory overload, lack of restorative sleep, and a hyperaroused nervous system” in conjunction with evidence of brain damage due to excessive screen time.

How to manage screen time for your kids:

• Keep devices and TVs out of their bedrooms.
• Be an example. Limit the time you’re on an electronic device around your kids.
• Value the time at the dinner table or in the car and keep electronics out of the conversation.
• Give them a variety of non-electronic educational resources: books, magazines, board games, arts & crafts supplies.
• Use screen time for a special family movie night.
• Encourage them to use the Internet to learn things that interest them. Not just to play games.
• Encourage fun, physical activities you can do outdoors together as a family.

iPads and other devices can be an extremely useful tool to keep your children entertained and educated, but as with most things, moderation is key.

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