By Dr. Allison Wells
The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio
Baylor College of Medicine – Residency Program
Have you ever found yourself at your child’s check up wondering if your child has too much screen time? Have you ever wondered why your pediatrician recommends only two hours of screen time per day for your child? And what exactly does “screen time” mean anyway?
Screen time is defined as the amount of time someone spends in front of any electronic viewing device – this means TV, smart phone, tablet, computer, laptop, and video games. Most children in our society grow up with these devices. In fact, many are tiny experts at using smart phones before they are even potty trained. But is screen time good for them? A lot of research has been done to look for the answer to this question.
We know there are some benefits to television and the internet. For example, through both of these, we are exposed to new information. Children are able to learn new things from certain shows (like Sesame Street and PBS). There is also some benefit to social support and contact found online – who doesn’t like to Skype with Grandma? However, there are strong risks of too much screen time for children.
- Your child’s physical health is impacted by too much screen time.
- Obesity: Studies have shown that children who spend more screen time during the day have increased obesity rates. Some studies show that even one extra hour of screen time per week can increase your child’s risk of obesity as an adult.
- Poor sleep: As the amount of screen time your child has increases, the amount of time they sleep overnight decreases. Children who have a TV in their bedroom, or a small screen (like a smart phone) nearby them overnight, get less sleep and have a decreased quality of sleep. Even newborn babies who are in the same room as a TV before bedtime sleep less overnight.
- Eyes: Screen time can cause your child to have more strain placed on their eyes. This can cause them to have red or dry eyes, blurry vision and an increased amount of headaches.
- Your child’s development and behavior are impacted by too much screen time.
Children who are exposed to screen time at a young age are more likely to have developmental delays. Some studies have even shown that they are slower to talk than children who receive little to no screen time. Children who have more screen time are also noted to have more behavior problems.
- Your child’s safety could be at risk with increased screen time.
Social media has a strong impact on our society. Children want to be connected to their friends at all times. However, in order to protect their privacy and safety from online predators, children must have restricted and supervised access to the internet.
How do I limit my child’s screen time?
It’s not always easy to limit screen time for children. Many times, the smart phone has even become a way to keep them calm in public places. Here are some starting tips:
- Start early! If you are pregnant or have a newborn at home, try to keep them from having any screen time until they are at least two years old. Try to limit the amount of TV you have on in the background because this can affect them too.
- For children two to five years old, limit them to less than one hour of educational and high-quality shows, like Sesame Street. Interact with your children while they are watching TV, help them understand what they are watching. This will help them learn.
- For children who are five years old and older, limit them to less than two hours of screen time per day.
- Limit your own media use; kids will imitate their parents.
- Start a family media-use plan. You can make your own at http://www.healthychildren.org/MediaUsePlan
- Avoid any fast-paced TV shows or apps with distracting or violent content.
- Have specific “no screen time” rooms and times. For example, no phones at the dinner table and no screen time one hour before bedtime.
Always remember that your pediatrician is a great resource. They are always there to help you and your child succeed. Schedule an appointment with them to address any concerns you may have. If you need help finding a pediatrician, visit us online at www.chofsa.org/findadoc.