Can screen time hurt my kid? A look at the research.

Updated: Feb 1


Picture of little boy using a tablet and wearing headphones.
Using a tablet can be educational, but can it become too much?

As 21st century moms, how much time our kids spend using screens has become a big cause for concern. There are many educational programs that kids can use during their screen time, but how much screen time is too much?


Recommendations on Screen Time


How much screen time is too much anyway? We all know that "too much" is bad, but how do we know how much is "too much?"


According to the Mayo Clinic, "The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages media use by children younger than 2 and recommends limiting older children's screen time to no more than one or two hours a day."


But the jury is out even among psychologists as to how much is too much.


According to Psychology Today, "1-2 hours of recreational screen time per day on school days is a reasonable amount. On weekends and holidays, perhaps 3-4 hours per day of recreational screen time is a reasonable amount. These are more like guidelines than limits, and there would be many exceptions."


Also notice in Psychology Today they talk only about recreational screen time. What about screen time for learning? During the last two years, even small children have sometimes had to sit on Zoom calls all day for school. But what is the impact of that? Is it similar to watching too many YouTube videos? Or, is the problem mitigated by the instructional content?


Though there have been studies done on the education that students are receiving virtually, it is unclear from what I read whether the additional screen time is harmful for children.


Both of these studies, for example, predominately discussed that being less tech savvy on the part of both students and teachers, was the main problem with virtual instruction.


Read more:

Applied Imaging

University of Illinois


Since it is winter, and we are living during a pandemic, I think we all often fall prey to letting our kids indulge in too much screen time. I know in our house, after dinner we have the TV on most of the night. There isn't much else to do, and often we are tired after a long day's work, and it is easier to want to zone out than to do something educational with our kids.


In our house, it has actually gotten to the point that my five year old is actually bored with watching movies, because we have watched so many of them during the pandemic.


What are the problems with screen time?


In the early 2000's when I was in college, it was thought by some that too much screen time could cause ADHD, however this has been debunked.


Our college professor told us that the main problem with children having trouble focusing due moving backgrounds in many children's television programs. If you watch most kids shows today, or post-2000's, you will notice that they have a static background that the characters move in front of. This is because the moving backgrounds could cause children to have trouble focusing.


The good news? This mostly applies to the programs that people our age watched in the 80's and 90's, not to programs our children are watching today.


According to the Mayo Clinic, some of the harmful effects of screen time are:

  • Obesity

  • Irregular sleep

  • Behavioral Problems

  • Impaired academic performance

  • Violence

  • Less time for play

These sound like pretty detrimental consequences of screen time. However to some extent these can be mitigated by closely monitoring the content that our children are watching, or the games they are playing.


What we can do.


If your child is used to a lot of screen time, it can be helpful to gradually reduce their consumption, so that you don't have a lot of behavioral consequences from taking away their devices. You don't want them to think they are being punished.


Also, as I said before, watch with your child. If you are watching a family movie together after dinner as we do, you can talk to your child about the content, and the values that are being displayed.


You can also use parental controls such as Netflix and YouTube for kids. That way, your children aren't watching something that is violent or otherwise teaching them bad values.


It isn't so much that screens are bad, it is a combination of the type of content that children are watching, and that screen time is substituting for healthier activities.


If you make sure that kids aren't watching violent or disturbing programs, or watching for hours on end on their own it can help to mitigate some of the problems above.


Also, make sure that kids have time for creative play that doesn't revolve around technology. Kids need time to be kids. They need time to play, and when they get older, time to study.


Be "old fashioned" and entertain kids with books. Kids love to read stories together, and they love the personal interaction with you that comes from reading together too. Reading is equally as engaging as watching something.


If you are looking for more activities to do with your kids you can check out my other articles:

Do you think arts and crafts are too hard for toddlers? Think again.

15 fun ways to get kids active outside


Conclusion.


Kids shouldn't be watching more than 2-4 hours max on screens every day. When they do watch something, watch with them, so that you can make sure your values are being represented in the content they are watching.


Also, be sure that kids have time for other activities, such as play or reading. It is especially important to foster creative play to get children into a more active vs a passive state.


Hopefully, all of this will be easier when summer swings around again, and kids can spend more time outside again! I know I am looking forward to summer already!


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