Children and adolescents spend a lot of time watching screens, including smartphones, tablets, gaming consoles, TVs, and computers. On average, children ages 8-12 in the United States spend 4-6 hours a day watching or using screens, and teens spend up to 9 hours. While screens can entertain, teach, and keep children occupied, too much use may lead to problems.
Parents may not always know what their children are viewing, or how much time they are spending with screens. Children may be exposed to:
- Violence and risk-taking behaviors
- Videos of stunts or challenges that may inspire unsafe behavior
- Sexual content
- Negative stereotypes
- Substance use
- Cyberbullies and predators
- Advertising aimed at your child
- Misleading or inaccurate information
Too much screen time may lead to:
- Sleep problems
- Lower grades in school
- Reading fewer books
- Less time with family and friends
- Not enough outdoor or physical activity
- Weight problems
- Mood problems
- Poor self-image and body image issues
- Fear of missing out
- Less time learning other ways to relax and have fun
Managing a child’s screen time is challenging for families. Your child is never too young for a screen-time plan. Consider the following as a guideline:
- Until 18 months of age limit screen use to video chatting along with an adult (for example, with a parent who is out of town).
- Between 18 and 24 months screen time should be limited to watching educational programming with a caregiver.
- For children 2-5, limit non-educational screen time to about 1 hour per weekday and 3 hours on the weekend days.
- For ages 6 and older, encourage healthy habits and limit activities that include screens.
- Turn off all screens during family meals and outings.
- Learn about and use parental controls.
- Avoid using screens as pacifiers, babysitters, or to stop tantrums.
- Turn off screens and remove them from bedrooms 30-60 minutes before bedtime.
Screens are here to stay and can offer many positives. It’s never too early to develop a screen-time plan with your family. Let your children share their ideas and concerns. Some additional tips to keep in mind are:
- Familiarize yourself with programming to make sure it is age-appropriate.
- Talk to your child about what they are seeing. Point out good behavior, such as cooperation, friendship, and concern for others. Make connections to meaningful events or places of interest.
- Be aware of advertising and how it influences choices.
- Encourage your child to learn other activities such as sports, music, art, and hobbies that do not involve screens.
- Set a good example with your own safe and healthy screen habits.
- Teach children about online privacy and safety.
- Actively decide when your child is ready for a personal device.
- Encourage using screens in ways that build creativity and connection with family and friends.
- Consider your child or teen’s maturity and habits. The right plan for one family may not be a good fit for another.
Positive and healthy screen use is possible with proper guidance and consistency.
If you are concerned about your child’s screen time, talk to your pediatrician or family physician. If problems persist, ask for a referral to a qualified mental health professional.
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