Dustin W. Bogan, PA-C

There has been a lot of talk recently about “screen time” with children and it is not a mystery to most parents that children are spending more and more time in a digital world. From cell phones to tablets and personal computers, technology is everywhere. But, what does that mean in terms of child safety? Child development? Relationships?

Hopefully this post can help to provide some guidance about the risks and benefits of growing up in a digital world. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics has clear recommendations for the amount of screen time that should be allowed at certain ages. Children under the age of 18 months should only be exposed to technology through the use of “Face-time” or video chatting. One of my favorite ways that I have seen this done is in a patient who’s father travels as a truck driver and video chatted with his daughter from various places throughout the country to read her a bed time story. 

Up until the age of 5, children should be limited to less than one hour per day and of course this doesn’t mean one solid hour. The key here is that within this hour, television, smart phones, and tablets are all included. As children begin school, they will of course be exposed to technology for an educational purpose and may need more than one hour per day. Regardless, limits should still be placed on the duration of time spent on devices and the time should be divided between education, fun activities, and social interaction. 

Technological devices should not take the place of free play, family time, homework, or regular physical activity. 

Research as recent as December of 2018 has shown that children who obtain longer than the recommended hour of screen time per day regularly do not get enough physical activity, which means they are more likely to be overweight or obese. 

Additionally, excessive screen time can lead to irritability, aggression, and mood changes in children, which can place a damper on any family relationships. This occurs especially if children are exposed to violence through television, videos, or video games. 

Recently a link between developmental delays and early digital exposure has been identified. Early exposure to technology is potential linked to lower performance on common developmental screening tools. 

Of course all of this does not mean that children (or parents) need to avoid technology altogether.  Digital media can be used in an effective way. As caregivers, pediatricians, and parents we can understand the potential benefits of technology as well. For example, technology use by children can also boost creativity and increase the access to knowledge that would be otherwise inaccessible.  Instead of combing through a dictionary or an encyclopedia, a digital format could be utilized. 

One easy way to think about screen time is to compare it to junk foods like chips or ice cream. Letting your child have a small amount, like the hour recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, is okay. Any more than the recommended amount could be potentially detrimental. 

As previously noted, we as medical providers are just beginning to understand the pros and cons of technology, but as with all other preventative health measures, remember that less is often more. 

Remember to watch television and movies with your child to answer any questions that may arise. Keep in mind that children learn much more from interacting with their parents and caregivers than they ever will from a digital device. Lastly, remember to emphasize that technology should never take away from the parent-child relationship, adequate physical activity, or from schoolwork. 

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