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Medicine or Malarkey: Is Too Much Screen Time Harming Your Kids?

Most kids probably cannot even imagine a time when computer screens did not exist. Children as young as one interact with tablets and smartphones these days. In fact, recent market research suggests that the average child aged five to 16 spends six and a half hours per day in front of a TV or computer screen! Can you believe that? For parents who grew up in an era when technology was the corded phone that everyone had to share, this leads to worries about whether too much screen time can affect childhood development.

Risks of Too Much Screen Time

Parents have been worried about television screen time for decades, but the popularity of many new devices makes concerns much more prevalent. Heavy screen use among children has been associated with a variety of problems, including:

  • Obesity: Watching TV or playing on a computer decreases the amount of time kids spend moving their bodies, and that can contribute to childhood obesity. For example, children with a TV in their bedroom are significantly more likely to be overweight than their peers.
  • Irregular sleep patterns: Illuminated screens stimulate the visual system, causing kids to stay awake for longer periods of time. Accumulating a large amount of screen time, particularly right before bedtime, can be problematic for sleep.
  • Poor academic performance: Large amounts of screen time are also associated with poorer performance at school. These effects are particularly significant for kids with a TV or personal electronic device in the bedroom, possibly because it could prevent them from reading or doing homework.
  • Behavioral issues: Excessive screen time may also contribute to attention issues, bullying and other behavioral problems. These issues are most common among kids with the highest levels of screen time, exceeding six hours per day.
  • Lower creativity: Each hour spent looking at a screen is one less hour for kids to play. Unstructured play has been associated with increased creativity in young children. Therefore, kids who use screens heavily may have lower creativity.

How Much is Too Much? Establishing Safe Limits for Screen Time

Many parents wonder whether using screens too frequently can actually cause their child to become addicted to technology. Sensationalist news headlines often tout the dangers of screen addiction, but it is unclear whether this is a real phenomenon. More research is needed to accurately determine the effects.

As with many parenting decisions, it is important to strike a balance when regulating screen time. The American Academy of Pediatrics has set screen time guidelines to help parents make this decision. The Academy recommends that children younger than age two have no exposure to screens whatsoever. For children older than age two, it is best to limit screen time to just one or two hours per day, including time on screens while doing homework or engaging in educational activities.

What’s the best way to combat too much screen time? Just let kids be kids and encourage outside play, as well as indoor activities like coloring, board games and hide and seek.