Screen Time and the Young Child

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, kids take in an average of SEVEN hours of media time a day!

At the same time, the AAP advises that children and teens should only engage in one to two hours of “high-quality content” entertainment media per day. Furthermore, children under two should not engage in television or other forms of entertainment media at all because of their rapidly developing brain.

These guidelines come from scientific research, showing that “excessive media use can lead to attention problems, school difficulties, sleep and eating disorders, and obesity. In addition, the Internet and cell phones can provide platforms for illicit and risky behaviors.”

We are living in a world where young children are getting their own smartphones, restaurants are placing gaming devices on tables, and daycare centers and schools use television as a part of routine instructional time. Avoiding entertainment media is impossible, and also not recommended. Instead, parents should establish clear boundaries on screen time for their children.

Setting time limits on media usage is a great place to start; however, quality is just as critical as quantity when it comes to screen time.  So, what is “high-quality?” A “high-quality” form of entertainment media emulates real-world social interactions, introduces educational concepts, and/or requires active participation on the part of the viewer.

Beware of some so-called educational games that are not considered “high-quality” because they are passive in nature and do not involve any engagement on your child’s part.  Some “non-educational” games, such as role playing games, encourage creativity and may be preferable to mindless entertainment such as Candy Crush. Facetime with Grandma can be considered quality media time because it emulates a real world social interaction.

This is not to say that the occasional mind numbing game should not be allowed. Just as you should try to get your child to choose healthier food options, you should try to get your child to choose higher quality entertainment when possible.

When it comes to choosing appropriate media, I ADORE Common Sense Media reviews. Their movie reviews analyze content based on positive messages, positive role models, violence, sex, language, consumerism, and drinking, drugs & smoking. They review app content based on ease of play, violence & scariness, sexy stuff, language, consumerism, and drinking, drugs, & smoking. Each category is rated on a scale of 1 to 5 and includes an in depth analysis of each category. There is even a section called “Families can talk about…” for each review that allows parents to make the most of media time.

When engaging in media with your child, make sure to have a dialogue with them about the media. Talk about central themes, characters, and scenarios from movies and television shows. Discuss strategies and educational content from apps and games. By taking an active part in your child’s media usage, you are extending the educational value of their screen time.

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