The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has come up with new guidelines for screen time for kids and teens to meet the changing technological times. Previously the recommendation was for no screen time for children younger than age 2 and just 2 hours a day for older kids. Recently the younger age limit was changed to 18 months for infants and toddlers with the exception of video chatting which is seen as a positive and interactive means of communication. For kids age 2-5, there is now a recommended limit of 1 hour of good quality screen time per day with the added recommendation that parents participate in watching the TV show or play a video game with their child to make it into a family activity. Parents should not use electronics as a way of bribing their children to be quiet as this could interfere with the development of coping skills as they get older.
For school age children and teens, more weight is given to the discretion of parents to regulate how much screen time is allowed. The AAP does suggest that there should be certain restrictions placed on screen use in the home including no screens allowed at the table or in the bedroom while sleeping. In addition, the AAP recommends that parents model appropriate limitations on screen time by not using their screens at the table themselves or as a replacement for having a conversation with their kids.
For teenagers, there is a very real concern that they are addicted to their electronics and that the devices are having a drug-like effect on their brains. A new documentary called, “Screenagers” looks at the very complex and scary relationship that adolescents have with their electronic devices. Dr. Delaney Ruston who is a contributor to the documentary, states that there is research that demonstrates that MRI scans of kids who play 20 hours or more of video games per week looks the same as scans of people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol. In another study, mice were exposed to multiple electronic devices over a period of time and then they were tested for their ability to learn new things. The results indicated that it took the mice 3x longer to learn a new task compared to mice who weren’t exposed to the electronic stimulation. This raises a concern as to the long term effects that excessive screen time has on the ability of kids and teens to learn.
Because of the real potential for overuse of electronic devices for children and teenagers, it’s important for parents to set limits on acceptable usage. This should include limited time spent on electronic devices during the week because priority should be given to homework, sports’ practices or exercise. In addition, all electronic devices should be turned off and kept off at least an hour before bedtime which can greatly improve the quality and quantity of sleep. Although these limitations likely won’t be popular with kids and teens, in the long run, they may just be thankful.