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Screen Time and Children

What is recommended?

Infants (0-24 months)

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under the age of two have no screen time- no TV, no iPads, no computers, and no cell-phones.

Toddlers (24-36 months)

It is recommended that toddlers have limited screen time, no more than an hour a day, and that they be supervised by and interacting with an adult during their viewing.

Recommendations: Quality programming that contains subject matter geared toward the age of the child, reading a book electronically, viewing pictures of family members, Facetiming/Skyping with family members or friends.

Preschoolers (3-5 years)

It is recommended that preschoolers have two hours or less of screen time each day. It is also recommended that they be supervised by and interacting with an adult while viewing or playing games.

Recommendations: Quality programming that is age appropriate and educational, games and activities that enhance creativity or learning, reading books electronically, shows and activities that encourage imagination and social skills.

REMEMBER: All time spent in front of a screen is time that is not spent being active, engaging in social play with friends or family, or learning to appropriately entertain oneself through imagination and creativity.

Effects of Too Much or Too Early Screen Time

  • Screen time takes away from children’s creative play.
    • Children that watch a lot of television often imitate what they see on TV instead of creating their own imaginative situations.
    • Also, children that have a lot of screen time may find creative play boring and uninteresting.
    • Creative play is essential for positive social, physical, and intellectual growth in the early years.
  • Screen time replaces physical activity and leads to obesity and other health problems.
    • Children that watch TV are more inactive and tend to snack more while watching TV.
    • Research has shown that TV viewing in early childhood affects body mass index (BMI) and the tendency to be overweight into adulthood.
    • All TV shows, even educational ones, replace physical activity in a child’s life.
    • Two-thirds of the 20,000 TV ads a typical child sees each year are for unhealthy goods high in fat and sugar, encouraging kids to demand these foods from their parents.
  • Screen time affects brain development in young children and academic performance in older children.
    • There has been no proven benefit to “educational” videos or TV shows for children under the age of 2.
    • Early brain development is the result of parent-child interactions that cannot be mimicked by something on a screen.
    • Children that are placed in front of a screen often as young children are not as frequently read to and tend to be less able to read as they develop. Nothing on TV can replace the act of reading and being read to.
    • When children are allowed to watch more TV, they spend less time reading, doing homework, pursuing educational experiences, and getting enough sleep.
    • One study found that watching TV in childhood increased the chances for dropping out of school and decreased the chances for getting a college degree.
  • Screen time leads to increased violent acts in young children and ultimately adults.
    • An average child will see 200,000 violent acts and 16,000 murders on TV by age 18.
    • Programs designed for children have been shown to contain more violence than adult TV.
    • Every single U.S. animated feature film produced between 1937-1999 contained violence, and the amount of violence with the intent to injure has increased over time.
    • Children under age 8 cannot tell the difference between fantasy and reality, and this makes them more likely to repeat the violence that they see on TV.
    • Repeatedly watching violence makes kids less sensitive toward its harmful effect on others.
    • Two studies that were conducted over 15 years found that childhood TV –violence watching was linked to more aggressive and violent behavior into adulthood.

What Can Parents Do?

  • Limit screen time- for both you and your child. When parents have the TV on, children are watching too and it may not be appropriate for them. Studies have shown that what and how much parents watch TV is the biggest influence on children’s viewing habits. Turn off the TV during meals.

Also, when parents are watching TV, they are not actively engaged with their child, limiting the benefits of parent-child interaction that all kids need to be successful.

  • Remove TVs, video game systems, and computers from children’s bedrooms. Watching TV before bed has been shown to cause sleep disruptions and irregular sleep schedules which lead to negative effects on mood, behavior, and learning. Also, the content that children watch behind closed doors may be inappropriate for their age.
  • If your child is watching TV, watch with him/her. Talk about what you both are seeing and discuss any areas of concern, making sure to listen to your child and his/her view of the program. Share your ideas and concerns as well. You will learn a lot about your children and they will learn a lot about your values and expectations.
  • Balance screen time with playtime. Make sure that your kids play with the TV off more than with the TV on. Encourage them to go outside or play creatively inside the home where they can get physical activity or enhance their mental abilities through creativity and language development.
  • Provide play materials that can be used in many ways for a long period of time. Toys such as blocks, play dough, dress up clothes, props, and art supplies are great household staples that kids can continue to use to learn and develop in a variety of ways over the years.
  • Read to your children. This is the single best way to build their literacy and vocabulary skills and help them develop a love of learning. In addition, time spent reading helps establish a parent-child bond that is invaluable.
  • Be selective about what your child can watch on TV. While no programs are recommended for children under 2, some toddlers and older children are able to learn from non-conflict, highly educational shows such as Sesame Street or Dora the Explorer. Just because a show is a cartoon, it is not necessarily safe for children to watch. Children may witness bullying, violence, inappropriate language, and little or no educational value in cartoons or other programs marketed to children. If you are unsure, watch an episode first or with your child so that you can explain anything they might see.
  • Do not use the TV as a babysitter. While it may be tempting to turn the TV on while you get ready for work or try and clean up around the house, it is always better for your child to be engaged in play than passively watching the screen in front of him/her.

(Sources: TRUCEteachers.org, American Academy of Pediatrics, University of Michigan Health System, KidsHealth.org, Parenting in Arkansas magazine-2013, Center for Effective Parenting, Pediatrics)

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