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Screen Time and Children

At some point, we all learn we need screen time limits the hard way. My parents, despite my objections when I was a kid, actually had a good system set up for screen time limits for me. I threw it out the window when I went to college, thinking I knew better. One night in particular, after a full day of classes, my brother and I settled in for a Mountain Dew and left over Halloween candy fueled night of Halo 3. We had a blast! I can’t remember exactly what time we finished, but we were horrified to realize classes were starting shortly. Then we noticed the pile of bags of candy corn strewn across the room. I’ll spare you the disgusting details, but we both paid for that night over the next several days. Whatever I can do to help people avoid the consequences of Mountain Dew fueled nights, I’ll do it.

Thankfully no war medals were thrown away

Screen time recommendations have been changing over the years. Even in the time from when I first started medical school until now, it has had some significant and welcome improvements. Changing public opinion has helped, with an overall improvement in perception and availability of games to us all through cell phones. Even my parents, who 25 years ago would get upset because I was playing Tetris too long on my brick of a Game Boy, now play Xbox for hours on end with games like Halo MCC and PUBG.

A relic of my past, which still works to this day!

With acceptance slowly improving, we still need to be careful. A child’s mind, in particular, is very plastic and impressionable, and parents need to ensure they are safe and protected.

Regardless of the child’s age, balance is the key to remember. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has made great strides in this direction. With increasing amounts of screen time needed for school and homework, sticking to a strict hour limit on screens just doesn’t work anymore (oh and COVID19 didn’t help with this either since we have all been stuck at home). Below are links to their guidelines and current recommendations:

AAP Toolkit and Links to Most Recent Statements and Guidelines for Screentime

https://www.aap.org/en-us/advocacy-and-policy/aap-health-initiatives/Pages/Media-and-Children.aspx

Family Media Plan Creator

https://www.healthychildren.org/English/media/Pages/default.aspx

The first link is great for looking at broad guidelines and keeping up to date on what the AAP currently endorses. The second is a toolkit to help families create a personalized guide for themselves.

The AAP used to recommend a hard stop on screen time, regardless of a person’s age. This may have been manageable years ago, but I doubt even then it was actually reasonable. Today, if you follow the links above you can see some much needed improvements. Young children, in particular, do need more guidance and strict rules due to their development and impressionable minds. Here are some excerpts from the current AAP guidelines for young children so you can see for yourself:

  • For children younger than 18 months, discourage use of screen media other than video-chatting.
  • For parents of children 18 to 24 months of age who want to introduce digital media, advise that they choose high-quality programming/apps and use them together with children, because this is how toddlers learn best. Letting children use media by themselves should be avoided.
  • In children older than 2 years, limit media to 1 hour or less per day of high-quality programming. Recommend shared use between parent and child to promote enhanced learning, greater interaction, and limit setting

Look at those! These guidelines actually provide insight and direction instead of being a hard stop. Families can still allow even young children to enjoy media without feeling guilty about it. The guidelines after age 2, and especially age 5, become more open allowing families to make a plan that is suitable and provides individual balance with less focus on specific limits.

I definitely support these changes, and especially now with COVID19, I support even more flexibility since we are all stuck at home (for the most part). Like learning to ride a bike, learning to read, or tying shoes, parents should be present and should be enjoying media with them to make it a meaningful experience. Parents should more importantly be teaching children how to implement this balance themselves to avoid the consequences (physical, mental, and candy corn/Mountain Dew related) of excessive or inappropriate media use.

We’ll continue to talk about this in future posts, but this is a good starting point. After understanding the current guidelines and the need for balance, we can get into the finer details.

I am a doctor and video game extraordinaire! And by extraordinaire I mean I’m kind-of okay.