In the last six years, the average time kids from zero to eight spend on hand-held screens has increased by over nine times – from five minutes per day to 48 minutes. Now, 98 percent of households with children eight and under – of all incomes – have access to a mobile device such as a smartphone or tablet.
Due to the overwhelming presence of iPods, iPhones, iPads, and a host of other gadgets in our daily lives, a hot parenting debate has arisen: how much “screen time” should children have, and what are its effects?
It would be difficult to find a major publication that hasn’t devoted time to this topic, and recently, NPR (National Public Radio) spent some time diving into the research surrounding children and screen time.
Mental health professionals have not yet determined whether screen media use can be a real “addiction,” but research is under way to investigate the relationship between screen time and children’s general well-being. It’s thought that if a child sneaks to use screen media, relies on screen media to improve a bad day, or consistently increases his or her screen media time, it can indicate a bigger problem.
Several studies have investigated the relationship between screen time (mostly television and video games) and obesity, and researchers reported in the Journal of Pediatrics that heavy screen use lead to a 43 percent greater risk of the condition.
However, the effects of screen time aren’t all bad. In an increasingly digital world, technology plays a large role in education and work, and in some cases, young people use it to become more civically engaged. In a study released in Child Development in December 2017, researchers found that limiting screen time was not necessarily linked with positive outcomes in children, concluding and recommending that caregivers and doctors do a cost/benefit analysis before “setting firm limits.”
Ultimately consider these three rules outlined in this video published by NPR:
Enjoy screens. – Regardless of what career field you hope your child pursues, he or she will need tech skills. Screen devices serve as tools for creation and discovery. Children learn more by playing and engaging, and not just passive watching.
Not too much. – Too much screen time can contribute to poor sleep, obesity, and a risk of negative mental, social, and emotional outcomes. Shut down screens well before bedtime and put them away while eating (you too, parents). Make sure your kids get outside to play every day!
Mostly together. – Kids often need help understanding what they see. Ask your children to explain what they see, or ask them to enjoy what they’re doing with you.
There’s no one-size-fits-all for screen time, but these roles should help you and your kids to maintain a healthy balance.