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Screen Time for Kids: How Much Is Too Much?

Written by Georgia McCafferty on Wednesday, 05 March 2014. Posted in Toddler Tips, Life With Baby

Before you hand over your smartphone to calm your toddler's tantrum, hit pause and think again...

Screen Time for Kids: How Much Is Too Much?


I’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve tried to have a family meal at a restaurant, only for one of our children to launch into a rip-roaring tantrum even before drinks have arrived. The kids are tired and hungry, crayons and paper just don’t cut it, and I wonder why on earth we considered this a good idea - until Dad whips out the magic iPad. 


But while smartphones and tablets can deliver a few minutes of much-needed calm, new media guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics say adults need to pay extra care to the amount of time children are spending in front of screens in order to maximise the benefits of technology and limit its negative side effects.


Educating children on proper media use and having a proactive family media plan can help children reap the benefits of modern technology. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the benefits of screen time include:
  • Greater social connectedness
  • Access to online knowledge and educational resources
  • Better access to positive information on adolescent health and nutrition

The guidelines offer helpful advice on incorporating media (which includes computers, TV, smartphones, tablets, iPads, etc.) in a healthy way at home. It also includes suggestions on how to best prevent potential problems from too much TV and computer use, which can include attention problems, obesity, short sightedness, and access to harmful material on the Internet.


Virginia Spielmann, occupational therapist and clinical director of Spot Therapy Centre in Hong Kong, said that although tablets and smartphones have opened up a wide range of useful learning tools, she regularly sees children with significant social and developmental problems associated with too much screen time.


“The social impact of screen time is profound. It’s difficult to expect our children to develop empathy and the ability to relate if they are communicating through video games and instant messaging and missing the tone of voice and body language that comes with physical, one-to-one communication,” she said.


“Our children are experiencing less of the 3D, multisensory world around them, and rather than learning the foundation skills for numeracy by piling up pebbles on the beach or pouring water through the sand, they are learning numbers through an app.”


Dr Tim Trodd, a specialist in family medicine at OT&P in Hong Kong, highlighted another significant risk factor from too much screen time – obesity.


“As a doctor, the area we occasionally have to tackle that comes about from too much screen time is overweight children due to a lack of exercise,” he said. “It is much better to get children playing outdoors than have them in front of a screen all the time.”


While the negatives can be a real concern, the AAP and local specialists have some good strategies for parents and carers, with increasing children’s outdoor activity (either through exercise or playtime) as the number one recommendation.


Spielmann also suggests making children earn their screen time each day, either by exercising or playing outdoors for the equivalent amount of time they’d like to use a tablet or TV – before they’re allowed to do so.


The APP advises parents to establish and actively manage a formal plan for all media use at home. They recommend digital media devices stay out of the children’s bedrooms, both to make it easier to manage the type and amount of content they’re accessing, and also because it can detrimental to the quality of sleep that they’re getting. Another suggestion is to make meal times screen-free for everyone (that includes you, Dad!).


They also recommend that children under two years old avoid all screen time, while children over two should limit their screen time to less than two hours per day.


And while it may seem daunting at first – explaining “no screens at the table” to my husband has proven no easy task – a clear policy and firm persuasion should help.


Click here to read the full policy statement and recommendations released by the American Academy of Pediatrics on October 2013






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Georgia McCafferty

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