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Published on October 08, 2019

girl playing game on tablet computer

Kids and Screen Time

When I asked my son to help load the dishwasher last night, he said, “Can I use the tablet afterwards?”

This is a common request in my house and many other homes with children. Technology is an important part of our society, but one that can become addictive. While at the park the other day, I watched a preschool age boy ask his mom to watch him climb the ladder. She kept her head down and continued to text on her phone.

I observed a group of teenage girls the other day walking through the mall all looking down at their devices. The next day I was waiting for an appointment and watched a young toddler play on an iPad in the waiting room.

Technology is here to stay, and that is a good thing. Children today have access to more information and educational games and videos than ever before. The problem is that many children are spending too much time on screens.

Why Technology can be Harmful

Many parents use screens as a way to keep children safe and quiet, and provide time for adults to get things done. Often parents justify the screen time, because it is “educational.” According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) studies show that excessive media use can put kids at risk for a variety of issues: vision problems, language delays, sleep problems, problems paying attention, behavior problems and obesity.

Some of the most important brain development in a child’s life occurs in the first six years. Young children learn best by moving, interacting with people, doing hands-on activities, and manipulating real objects in their environment.

How Much is Too Much

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends no screen time for children younger than 18 months. Children ages 18-24 months can be introduced to high quality programming but parents should watch it with their children to help them understand what they are seeing.

For children ages 2 to 5, limit screen use to one hour per day of high quality programming. Children 6 and older should have consistent limits set on time spent using media and the types of media they can use. There are times when parents may be tempted to be more lax about technology usage such as long car rides or when a child isn’t feeling well; the important thing is that parents have screen limits and for the most part follow those.

Tips on Limiting Screen Time

Creating a personalized family media-use plan, is a great first step, and the AAP has an interactive online tool for families. Here are some additional ideas that can help: 

  • Parents can set an example for children by monitoring their own media use.
  • Prioritize playtime that is creative and unstructured for young children
  • Create screen-free times such as meal times
  • Set and enforce screen time limits
  • Consider using apps that control the length of time a child can use a device; if they don’t, use a timer to help you keep track
  • Keep screens out of your child’s bedroom, even for teens
  • Eliminate background TV

Technology is such a great tool for kids today, but it is up to parents to help limit use of media. Parents can help children learn to use technology as a tool and help them limit their use by following these tips and guidelines.

By Patricia Bates, Family Life Educator, Women’s and Children’s Community Outreach Education, Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center

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