Long gone are the days when the average family just had a TV to sit and watch a program together. Now you may sit down to watch a show, but how many people in the family also have their phone or tablet out or are working on a computer as they check their smartwatch too? Screens are EVERYWHERE! It is a blessing and a curse. It is great to be connected, and there are amazing apps and other technology that can truly make our life better. However, too much screen time can suck our joy and lead to serious health issues. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, on average, children ages 8-12 in the United States spend 4-6 hours a day watching or using screens, and teens spend up to 9 hours. That is a LOT of time on a screen and not engaging in the real world. 

What is the real problem with too much screen time? According to the American Academy of Children and Adolescent Psychiatry, too much screen time and regular exposure to poor-quality programming have been linked to:

  • Sleep problems 
  • Lower grades in school 
  • Reading fewer books 
  • Less time with family and friends 
  • Not enough outdoor or physical activity 
  • Weight problems 
  • Mood problems 
  • Poor self-image and body-image issues 
  • Fear of missing out 
  • Less time learning other ways to relax and have fun

And parents may not always know what their children are viewing or how much time they spend with screens. Children may be exposed to: 

  • Violence and risk-taking behaviors 
  • Videos of stunts or challenges that may inspire unsafe behavior 
  • Sexual content 
  • Negative stereotypes 
  • Substance use 
  • Cyberbullies and predators 
  • Advertising aimed at your child 
  • Misleading or inaccurate information 

The Mayo Clinic suggests that unstructured playtime is more valuable for a young child’s developing brain than electronic media. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following for parents and caregivers.

  • For children under 18 months, avoid screen-based media except video chatting.
  • For children 18 months to 24 months, parents should choose high-quality programming and watch with their children.
  • For children 2 to 5, limit screen time to one hour per day of high-quality programming.
  • For children 6 and up, establish consistent limits on the time spent using media and the types of media. 

Children younger than two are likelier to learn when they interact and play with parents, siblings, and other children and adults. Need some ideas on how to engage the under-two crowd? Here is Yelp’s “best toddler play” in the Portland Metro area. 

If you have a teenager, you know how much time can be lost watching TikTok. Recently, TikTok announced a new 60-minute screen time limit. However, you can override that limit by entering a password. Because there is a way to circumvent the time limits, it may not be entirely helpful. Learn more about the TikTok time limit for teens here

Just for clarification, not all screen time is created equally. Common Sense Media research studies identify four main categories of screen time:

  • Passive: mindlessly watching videos or shows, scrolling, on autopilot
  • Interactive: playing games, problem-solving
  • Communication: video-chatting, using social media ​
  • Content creation: making digital art, music, or coding

Common Sense Media has a “best list” of what movies and shows are best for your children and teens, depending on their age. However, it is up to you and your family to determine what would work for your child. 

Common Sense Media encourages parents and caretakers to follow these tips to help navigate these different types of screen times. First, pay attention to how your kids act during and after watching TV, playing video games, or hanging out online. There’s no need to worry as long as:

  • They’re using high-quality and age-appropriate content.
  • Their behavior is positive.
  • Screen time is balanced with other parts of life, like sleep, connecting with family and friends, and time outdoors.

If you’re worried about too much time on devices, consider creating a schedule that works for your family.

  • Include limits on how long kids can use devices, the kinds of devices they can use, and the types of activities or programs they can choose.
  • Get kids’ input, so the plan teaches critical thinking skills and self-regulation.

American Academy of Pediatrics, the World Health Organization, and Common Sense Media all have helpful guidelines for limiting screen time for kids. It is a large problem for all children. 

What do we do? The Mayo Clinic also has these additional tips:

  • Encourage unplugged, unstructured playtime.
  • Create tech-free zones or times, such as during mealtime or one night a week.
  • Discourage the use of media entertainment during homework.
  • Set and enforce daily or weekly screen time limits and curfews, such as no exposure to devices or screens one hour before bedtime.
  • Consider using apps that control the length of time a child can use a device.
  • Keep screens out of your child’s bedroom and consider requiring them to charge their devices outside of their bedrooms at night.
  • Eliminate background TV.
  • Encouraging digital literacy.

Some of this can be really alarming. In addition, this article isn’t even touching on the effects of social media on our kids’ mental health. There is a lot to unpack, and this has to be an ongoing conversation. 

Remember, we, as parents and caregivers, are modeling behavior to our children, so we all need to be mindful of our own relationships with our devices. This is an ongoing conversation that we will be having with our children as they grow. We will need to continuously guide, manage, monitor, and revisit our rules as we go. 

What are your rules about screen time? How has it affected your family? We would love to hear from you.