Recent studies show too much screen time can be more harmful to children than many people thought. But how much is too much, and how can parents best reduce it if they need to?
“The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends one to two hours of screen time, which does not include homework,” says Licensed Clinical Social Worker Erika Behunin.
She adds, for children under two, pediatricians recommend no screen time at all.
According to Medline Plus, most American kids spend about three hours per day just watching TV. That’s not counting the time they spend on their tablets or on their smartphones.
In a recent Learning Habits Study, researchers found too much screen time can lead to emotional instability, sleep problems and lack of focus. Some children can balance screen time with the other things they need in life. Others can’t.
“I think you also have to know your child. You need to know their strengths and weaknesses,” Behunin says. “Some kids can balance that better and others need more boundaries and guidelines.”
Behunin says if parents want their kids to have less screen time, they need to put their devices down, too.
She states, “The children are seeing how frequently their parents are using their devices, and I think a lot of times parents don’t even realize how often they’re using their own device.”
She cited one study where researchers watched adults and children at a restaurant.
“The majority of the parents pulled out a device during the meal and quite a few of them kept the device on for the whole entire meal,” Behunin says.
But when many parents try to limit the amount of time their children have on their devices, there can be a lot of whining, complaining and even some fighting back and parents may be just too tired to put up with it, so they give in. Behunin says it’s best when parents set clear rules about screen time in a family meeting, and have clear consequences if the rules are broken.