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Pandemic Dilemma: Putting the Brakes on Screen Time for Kids

Author: CHKD Medical Group, Dr. Rachel Mayer
Published Date: Wednesday, March 31, 2021

By Dr. Rachel Mayer, Liberty Pediatrics

For years, health advocates have advised limits on screen time for kids, but what happens when a pandemic takes over the world?

Instead of school teachers confiscating electronic devices, they now are teaching through them. Counselors have advised children who feel isolated to connect with others through platforms like FaceTime and Zoom.

What’s a parent to do? Throw the old rules away? Give in to your child’s desires?

It’s important to know the recommendations, understand why limits are important, and balance guidelines with real world circumstances. Consider each child’s needs and make sure they are getting enough physical activity, sleep, and in-person socialization.

First, what’s best?

Here are guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics:

Children under 2 years old:

  • Discourage screen time for children under 18 months, except when video chatting with friends and family.
  • For children 18 months to 2 years, introduce high-quality digital media, but only with an adult present, and for very limited periods of less than one hour.
  • Avoid using screen time as the only way to calm or occupy a child.

Children 2 to 5 years old:

  • Limit to one hour or less per day.
  • Make sure media is interactive, nonviolent, and educational.
  • Supervise and “co-play” so the child is interacting with adults.

Children 5 to 18 years old:

  • Tailor screen time to each child, with consistent limits on the amount and type of media.
  • Filter with media parental controls or supervision.
  • Keep meal times media free, and stop using screens at least an hour before bedtime.

What’s wrong with too much screen time?

  • Studies have shown links between excessive screen time and poor sleep. Screen time stimulates the mind, and the blue light can disrupt normal sleep patterns.
  • Too much time on electronic devices can lead to delays in learning and in the development of social and coping skills.
  • Children who don’t move enough are more likely to gain weight. Background television during meals has been linked to eating more junk food.
  • Behavior problems have been linked to poor sleep and lack of physical activity.
  • Heavy screen use can lead to dependence on electronic devices to escape uncomfortable moments like school work, and dealing with stressful, but necessary, situations.
  • Greater access to the internet can expose children to unhealthy and even dangerous websites.

How can I help my family limit screen time?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends families develop a Family Media Plan. This tool customizes screen time recommendations for every child depending on their age and unique needs.

  • Build in activities like daily walks, weekly hikes at local and state parks, and visits to outside recreation or historical areas.
  • Encourage children to read books, and to develop hobbies like sports activities, arts and crafts, puzzles, and yoga or other mindfulness training.
  • If they’re going to use electronic devices, help them find ways to make it creative, social, and active, such as making a movie, recording family stories by talking to relatives, or having a dance contest with friends.
  • Establish electronic-free zones and times, especially during meals. Conversations during meals help children develop socially and emotionally, and reduces stress for all family members.
  • Establish screen-free hours before bed.
  • Substitute a real alarm clock for a cell phone alarm, and let phones charge overnight outside kids’ bedrooms.
  • Limit the number of alerts.
  • Set a good example by limiting your own screen time.

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About CHKD Medical Group

About CHKD Medical  Group Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters has been the region’s most trusted name in pediatric care for more than 50 years. As members of CHKD Health System, our pediatricians work closely with CHKD’s full range of pediatric specialists and surgeons. They also share a commitment to quality, excellence and child-centered care. With 18 practices in 29 locations throughout the region, a CHKD pediatrician is never far.