The Effects of Too Much Screen Time in Children and How You Can Set Tangible Limits

In today’s digital age, many parents use television, the Internet, or tablets such as iPads to placate their children and keep them entertained. But did you know that your child’s “screen time” is directly tied to their physical health and social development?

Several recent studies indicate that even relatively moderate amounts of screen time can have a negative health impact on children, whether toddlers or teenagers. A 2017 study by Dr. Catherine Berkin, professor of pediatrics at the University of Toronto, found that the more time 6-to-24-month-old children spent in front of handheld screens such as smartphones or tablets, the more likely they were to experience speech delays. Other studies and reports tie high amounts of electronic screen use in young people to obesity, heart disease, and diabetes and even depression and insomnia. The American Heart Association recommends no more than two hours a day of recreational screen time for children and teenagers.

It’s also important to note that screen use habits are formed during infancy and toddlerhood. For this reason, we encourage you to resist the urge to introduce your children to television or tablets at an early age and recommend little-to-no screen time for children in this age group. Don’t worry; your kids will have plenty of time to develop their technological proficiency later in life. Remember, there are plenty of engaging, educational and screen-free activities available for infants and toddlers, including group play, puzzles, blocks and brightly-colored books.

For older children, limit their screen time to two hours per day or less. This includes the time spent in front of a screen both at home and at school. We recommend setting and enforcing strict limits on screen time, specifically on school days. A reasonable goal is absolutely no more than one hour of non-school-related screen time each day, including television, video games and computer time unrelated to school work.

The American Academy of Pediatrics offers a great online resource to help you create a family media use plan and also suggests the following tips for limiting the negative effects of screen time:

  • Choose media that works for you and your children, enhances their daily lives and fits within your family values and parenting style;
  • Treat your children’s media like you would any other “virtual environment” and know the platforms, software and apps your children use; what Internet sites they visit; and who they associate with in the digital world;
  • Encourage “unplugged playtime,” particularly in young children;
  • Screen time should not be alone time. Co-play, co-view and co-engage with your children when they are using screens. This encourages social interaction, bonding and learning;
  • Teach and model kindness and good manners online, and limit your own media use in front of your children;
  • Place a high value on face-to-face communication, particularly with young children, as this is directly tied to their language-development skills;
  • Create tech-free zones, such as at the dinner table during family meal times;
  • Don’t use technology as an emotional pacifier. Work with your children on how to identify and handle their emotions, including boredom; and
  • Warn your children about the importance of privacy, the permanence of the Internet, and the danger of online predators.

Of course, we recognize that we live in a hyper-connected digital age and early exposure to technology is inevitable. But by teaching your children to incorporate these screen-viewing habits, you are guiding them to lead healthy, happy and productive lives.