What is Your Child’s “Screen Time”?

by Wellness Editor – MH

Many parents would agree with the notion that children are spending more time than ever on electronic devices. Over the last decade or so, smart phones, laptops and tablets have become highly valued items among adolescents, and are now becoming increasingly popular among even younger children. The problem with this trend is that children and young teenagers don’t usually possess good judgment, and spend far too much time using these gadgets. This issue of children’s “screen time” has drawn the attention of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), an organization including over 60,000 doctors specializing in children’s health.

Changing Habits

Most modern children and teenagers would struggle to envision living without texting, internet access, multiple gaming consoles and several TVs. Just a few decades ago, earlier generations of children who had to make do with sharing one or two household televisions, along with maybe one gaming system. In light of this dramatic shift, the AAP released a new policy statement regarding children and media exposure in October 2013. Of course, this topic goes hand in hand with the proliferation of new electronic offerings, which allow children to access a variety of forms of entertainment.

The new guidelines, issued under the title “Children, Adolescence and the Media,” contained a number of details regarding the prevalence of media-use among children:

  • Children between the ages of 8 and 10 get eight hours worth of daily media exposure. This media intake increases to over 11 hours as children get older.
  • While it probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise, children with TVs in their bedroom are much more likely to watch television. Over the years, this set-up has become much more common. More than seven-in-ten (71%) of children and teens have TV sets in their bedroom, and half also have a video game system.
  • In 2004, less than half (45%) of teens in the 12 to 17 age bracket owned a cell phone. Nine years later, this figure had swelled to 75%.
  • You would be correct in thinking that children and teens send a lot of text messages. Nearly nine in ten (88%) text.

This AAP wasn’t the only group to examine this issue. Common Sense Media, a nonprofit group concerned with the effects of media and digital technology on children, released a report of their own in the same month. According to this group, 72 percent of children under 8 have used a mobile device for entertainment purposes, nearly double the figure from just two years prior (38 percent). Of the children who used such products, almost a fifth (17%) did so on a daily basis.

The Downside of Technology

With kids spending an increasing amount of time on various gizmos, the AAP and other medical professionals have voiced concerns over such behavioral patterns. In their October 2013 press release, the AAP noted that research has associated excessive media intake with negative health effects in children and teens. These effects may include poor sleeping problems, obesity, increased aggression and declining performance at school. While stating that media use is not the primary cause of any medical ailment in the US, the AAP did stress that “it can contribute to numerous health risks.”

One recent study examining children’s media use appeared in the July 2010 issue of the journal Pediatrics. This report, which included over 7400 children between the ages of 9 and 15, focused on the impact of “screen time,” defined as time spent watching TV, watching videos, playing video games and recreationally using a computer. Children with an excessive amount of screen time (over two hours per day) were more likely to exhibit unhealthy behavior, including consumption of alcoholic beverages and aggressive actions towards others. Furthermore, these subjects had a greater risk of performing poorly in school, being overweight and suffering from eating disorders. On the other hand, children whose screen time was restricted were more likely to be physically active.

Getting Back on Track

To assist concerned parents, the AAP has produced some guidelines for controlling children’s screen time:

  • Watch TV programs, movies and videos with your children. This allows parents to filter what their children watch and influence their viewing patterns.
  • Identify the websites frequented by your children.
  • Limit children’s screen time to one to two hours per day. Children under the age of two should get as little screen time as possible.

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