Ask a Clinician: How much 'screen time' is too much?

Ask a Clinician: How much 'screen time' is too much?

Q: When my children were very young, I was intentional about monitoring how much time they watched television. Now that they are older, they seem to always have a screen before their eyes – television, mobile device or computer.  Should I be concerned about their screen time?

A: Parents of tweens and teens are commonly in your position: concerned about their children’s over-exposure to media and frustrated by their ability to control or manage that exposure.  At the same time, the screens that worry us also may be great tools for communications, learning and entertainment.   Cell-phone screens invite instant “conversations”; whiteboard technology in classrooms facilitate and enhance learning; and data streaming on computer monitors and “smart” TVs has revolutionized the way we enjoy television.

Tips for Parents

1. Create technology guidelines for the whole family, stick to them and have consequences for violations. For example, turn off TVs at the same time each evening, ban cell phones from the dinner table and once a week, go “old school” by unplugging from all entertainment media.

2. Teach children that what they send, post, pin or upload lasts forever, so they’d better be willing to stand behind it for life.

3. Model your family values around face-to-face interaction. For example, if courage and truth are important to your family, don’t use “screens” to disclose important information to one another.

Courtesy of Robin Stein, LCSW, Director of Response for Teens, a JCFS Chicago program that empowers teens to make healthy choices

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), children today spend an average of seven hours a day on entertainment media, including televisions, computers, phones and other electronic devices.  How do your children’s habits compare?  Ultimately, parents should monitor children’s “media diet” toward a goal of two hours or less of entertainment media a day, according to the AAP. (For children under age 2, the Academy recommends no media at all; human interaction is best for brain development during the early years.)

Scaling back to an hour or two of entertainment media a day will leave kids with new-found time to spend with others, says Dr. Alysa Slay, Director of Psychological Services at JCFS Chicago.
“In order to develop confidence and a strong sense of self esteem in social interactions, a child needs to practice the joys of interacting with others,” says Dr. Slay.  Even social interactions that lead to disappointment – such as not being picked for a game of tag – are important because they provide opportunities for recovery from negative experiences, she says.

“Learning how to read non-verbal social cues, to recognize emotions in others, to learn to wait for one’s turn – are all novel, subtle cues that are important to learn. Too much screen time can stand in the way of a child learning these everyday nuances of social interaction,” cautions Dr. Slay.

Moreover, excessive screen time can have a negative impact on language acquisition and development, and, when the content is particularly violent or provocative, it can deaden children’s reaction time to dangerous situations, according to Joanne Kestnbaum, LCSW, supervisor of the Virginia Frank Child Development Center at JCFS Chicago.

Photo credit:  Wesley Fryer on Flickr