How Much Screen Time Is Okay?
Worried about how much screen time is too much for your child? How much screen time is too much for your teen? Or even how much screen time is too much for you? Read on.
The Problem (Or Not) With Screens
Many advocates believe screens are not inherently bad or inherently good. But the amount of screen time and overall health is a trend that continues to be evaluated by researchers and professionals. For the purposes of this article, screen time is “an activity done in front of a screen, such as watching TV, working on a computer, or playing video games. It also includes social media.” (Definition source)
Numerous studies have revealed negative consequences of screens including expressive speech delays and developmental delays in children, lower academic performance in teens, and, alarmingly, an increase in suicidal attempts.
Read the studies here: The health effects of screen time on children: A research roundup
But, screen time has also resulted in a wide array of good. Benefits include research for school assignments, playing video games to increase motor skills and coordinator, and feeling more connected. -Source
The key to ensuring screen time is more beneficial than harmful is: moderation.
What Screen Time Does to the Brain
If not used in moderation, screen time can have life-long effects, as early as childhood.
Early data from a landmark National Institutes of Health (NIH) study that began in 2018 indicates that children who spent more than two hours a day on screen-time activities scored lower on language and thinking tests, and some children with more than seven hours a day of screen time experienced thinning of the brain’s cortex, the area of the brain related to critical thinking and reasoning. -Healthy Matters
Children, especially, are growing, and their brains are too. Children largely learn by exploration and imitation: exploring their house, playing with new toys, watching their parents, watching people in the grocery store, watching other children, etc. If a child is looking at a screen throughout the day, they are losing out on the time they are learning from other people. First Things First states that 90% of brain growth happens before kindergarten.
Advocates might claim their child is indeed learning from a screen, whether it is a teaching video or a video on how to count. But studies say differently.
Studies have shown that children under 2 learn less from a video than when learning from another person, and it appears that although children will watch the TV screen by 6 months, understanding the content does not generally occur until after age 2. -Health Matters
Too much screen time doesn’t just affect children.
Brain scans from the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study showed a difference in the brains of some 9- and 10-year-olds who use smartphones, tablets, and video games more than 7 hours a day compared to those who engaged in less screen time. The scans showed that the cortex, the outer layer of the brain that processes information from the five senses, was thinner in kids who spent a lot of time on screens, than it was in kids who didn’t. –Source
How Much Screen Time Is Okay?
A variety of answers are out there. And so many variables affect each individual.
There are so many variables involved that, at best, we can only say, “It depends on ______.” Let’s take a look at some of these variables that might influence how our screens affect us:
- Characteristics of the person – e.g., age, sex, personality variables
- Characteristics of the context – e.g., playing a video game alone vs. online with strangers vs. in-person with friends
- Format – e.g., tablet, Xbox, smartphone, VR headset
- Type of media – e.g., social media, video games, Netflix, blogs, YouTube tutorials
- Characteristics of the media – e.g., violent movies and video games, pornography, sexting, high action vs. low action, strategy vs. action
- Consuming vs. creating – e.g., watching YouTube videos of people being slimed vs. how to play chess, playing a video game vs. programming/developing a video game
- Time/frequency involved – e.g., 2 hours per day vs. 10 hours per day, checking a phone 30 times per day vs. 200 times per day
- Timing – e.g., Snapchatting at home while sitting on the couch or while driving down the freeway at 70 m.p.h., a college student texting friends between classes or during class lectures
Appropriate Screen Time By Age
If you are looking for exact numbers, extensive research shows the following:
How much screen time is okay for children – American Academy of Pediatrics
- Avoid screen time for children younger than 18 months
- Avoid screen time for children 18-24 months, but if you must introduce, limit screen time to only high-quality videos and co-watch and co-play with your child.
- Limit screen use to 1 hour per day for children 2-5.
How much screen time is okay for teens – American Academy of Pediatrics
- Screen time should be based on balance of teen getting 1 hour of exercise and 8-12 hours of sleep per day, depending on teen’s age
- Teens should not sleep with devices in their room
In our current age of writing this article, we are under the pressure of COVID. Distance learning and necessity of connectedness have increased everyone’s screen time usage. Below shows how quarantine has changed our views on appropriate amounts of screen time.
How To Limit Screen Time
Limiting screen time is going to be hard, or it is hard if you have already been trying to do so with yourself or your kids. Many researchers suggest developing a Family Media Plan or Digital Media Contract:
Researchers also say to start early. Talk to your child openly about digital media and the effect it could have on them, their friendships, their activity level, etc. Become informed on brain development in your child and make smart choices to encourage your child to have the best development they can. Avoid using media to calm your child. Have separate times to interact with your child, separate from device time.
The latest publication from American Academy of Pediatrics answers even more great questions such as:
- Can advertisers reach my children?
- At what age can my child learn from a screen?
- Are touch screens more educational?
- Are ‘educational apps’ really educational?
- Do screen limits apply to children with disabilities who use mobile devices to communicate?
- And more
What To Do If You Think You/Someone You Know Has a Problem
The right question to ask, says Cal Newport, an associate professor of computer science at Georgetown University, is what value are you getting out of the time you spend looking at screens, and what value are you losing? “If you find your screens are starting to displace activities you think are more important or meaningful, that’s a sign that you may want to reconsider your use,” he says. –Source
Cal Newport goes on to say that if you are watching a screen – such as a tv show or a game – and you are reaching for your cell phone, that is a sign that you may have shifted to a moderate behavioral addiction. He describes taking a digital declutter: 30 days without Internet, video games, and television. You can read his book Digital Minimalism to learn more.
For those who think they or someone they know needs professional help, reSTART is the first video game addiction treatment center in the nation. ReSTART Internet Gaming Addiction Treatment
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