Screen Time in Childhood by RLLC’s Clinical Fellow Maggie Bonadies

Blog by: Maggie Bonadies, M.A., CF-SLP

Information presented in this blog post regarding the impacts of screen time, specifically with tablets and similar personal devices, does NOT include dedicated alternative augmentative communication systems, which are integral to the lives of many individuals. Screen use is ubiquitous in today’s American culture, as technology is an integral part of daily living for both adults and children. Many children use computers in their classrooms as to complete homework, and a growing number have their own cell phones and tablets. According to Common Sense Media, children ages 8-12 now have roughly 4.5 hours per day of screen time, excluding computer or other screen use specifically for school of homework. Scientists have been studying the impacts of screen use on cognition, psychology, and human development since the 1980s. In recent years, the topic has gained popularity, with significantly more focus on the negative impacts. Research has shown that increased screen time can impact a child’s sleeping patterns, ability to interact with peers and read social cues, can cause headaches and repetitive motion injuries, and can cause vision problems, among others. The American Academy of Pediatrics has previously recommend zero screen time for children under the age of 2, and a maximum of 2 hours per day for older children. This 2- hour block is ideally dedicated to educational or intellectually stimulating materials designed for children. In October of this year, the AAP plans to announce new guidelines and recommendations for appropriate screen-time. These new policies are expected to include increased time allotted for all ages. The AAP explains that media itself is simply an environment in which children learn. With the creation of educational apps and easily accessible high-quality children’s television, it is easy to understand this justification. However, it is not an admission that increased screen time has no detrimental impact. In an interview with NPR, David Hill of the AAP states that the new policies reflect more of a “harm reduction” mindset: “…The question before us is whether electronic media use in children is more akin to diet or to tobacco use. With diet, harm reduction measures seem to be turning the tide of the obesity epidemic. With tobacco, on the other hand, there really is no safe level of exposure at any age. My personal opinion is that the diet analogy will end up being more apt.” As with many things in life, moderation is the key factor in regards to screen time. Allowing children to utilize and familiarize themselves with technology is not a bad thing, and neither is watching a television show as a family. It is when screen time surpasses screen-free time that issues arise. Some ways to minimize screen time include:  Above all, parents need to be good models to the child. For example, if the child cannot bring a cell phone into the living room, neither should the parents. Not only does this send a good message, it promotes interaction among the whole family.  Keep televisions and computers out of the child’s bedroom.  Avoiding eating meals in front of the television, and instead dedicate mealtime to discussion of the day or other topics that can include the child.  Incorporate a child’s favorite characters from screen-based games/shows/etc., into non-screen activities. For example, invite Peppa Pig to a pretend-play tea party. This can motivate the child in interact without sacrificing interactive playtime for television.  Make the family tablet a reward that a child must earn by completing chores, reading, or generally making good choices during the day. Resources and Further Reading:  Kids and Screen Time: A Peek at Upcoming Guidance  Screen time and children  Keeping an eye on screen time  6 Negative Effects of Too Much Screen Time for Kids  Health effects of media on children and adolescents  Beyond ‘turn it off’: How to advice families on media use