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Is Screen Time Really That Bad for My Kid? 

Summer is a time when parents tend to use T.V.s and tablets as babysitters a little more often than during the school year. And who can blame them? Just because school’s out doesn’t mean the rest of life’s obligations stop and it’s tough to constantly keep kids entertained. But many experts have warned parents about the harmful effects of excessive screen time on kids. And while it can feel unrealistic to keep your kids off screens all summer, no parent wants to put their child’s well-being at risk. 

So what factors should parents consider when making decisions about screen time for their kids?

1. Not all screen time is equal

Part of why it’s difficult to pinpoint how harmful screen time is or isn’t is because most studies have focused on the effects of T.V., while today’s kids use a variety of devices with different levels of stimulation. For example, if your child is playing an interactive letter identification game on a tablet, they’ll experience more educational benefits than sitting next to you as you binge your favorite house-flipping series. Be strategic with their screen time by choosing shows and games that promote movement, problem solving, exploration, and language development.

2. Philosophies vary

Some researchers disagree that screen time in and of itself is truly bad, but rather that it becomes bad if you let it get in the way of other health essentials such as your child’s sleep, exercise, nutrition, and family interactions. Their idea is that it’s less important to clamp down on screen time and more important to focus on improving your child’s off-screen quality of life. Turning screens off an hour before bedtime, serving healthy meals, reading with mom and dad, and ensuring they get some daily active play are great ways to promote an enriched, well-rounded lifestyle.

3. The risks are valid

Gray areas aside, there are a variety of behavioral, physical, and psychological risks that have been linked with excessive screen time including:

  • Headaches

Each of these symptoms can impact your child’s academic and social lives.

4. Age makes a difference

Parking your kid in front of the T.V. for hours is discouraged across the board, but this can feel especially unavoidable during the summer for parents who work and can’t afford constant camps and activities. Following these guidelines might not be realistic for you 100% of the time, but as a general rule, try to stick to these recommendations:

Babies 18 months and under:

Other than occasional video chats with grandpa, it’s widely believed that no amount of screen time is appropriate for this age group. Having the TV on reduces the amount of words parents speak to their babies, and both physical and verbal interaction are critical during infancy.

Toddlers 18 – 24 months:

You can start to introduce a bit of screen time to toddlers, but aim to choose quality educational programming and watch it with them to explain what they’re seeing. 

Children 2 - 5 years old:

Keep screen time to 1 hour or less per day and discuss how they can apply the show’s lessons to the world around them.

Children 6 and older:

Aim to keep screen time to 2 hours or less per day. Set clear limits regarding when screens need to go off and what types of shows, games, and internet use are allowed. Have frequent conversations about online citizenship and safety.

Considerations for adolescents:

Screen time tends to spike during adolescence, which is concerning because so does brain development. Just as people are more prone to addiction to alcohol or drugs if they began using substances as teens, they’re also at greater risk to become addicted to video games or the internet.

5. Modeling matters

We tend to think our kids understand that screen time is different for adults. Parents often have to take work calls, pay bills, and let’s face it - we all get stuck mindlessly scrolling the internet or getting sucked into apps or games from time to time. But kids look to us to be examples for what they should be doing, so consider setting your own screen time limits to model how to balance screens and reality.

6. Boredom isn’t the bad guy

Parents often feel guilty if their child isn’t entertained all summer, but experts agree that boredom actually boosts creativity, physical activity, and problem solving. Ditch the guilt and take pride in not orchestrating every moment of your kid’s free time – allowing them to be bored will help them learn to think outside the box and entertain themselves.

Click here for more tips on using boredom to your kid’s advantage this summer!

7. There are social pros & cons

The more time your kid spends on a screen, the less time they are out riding bikes, climbing fences, or hanging out with friends. However, the internet can provide social connections for kids who may have trouble connecting with peers in real life, such as children with high-functioning autism or social anxiety. Of course, these connections can also have a negative side, such as cyber-bullying or catfishing (posing as someone you are not on the internet). It’s critical that parents set clear boundaries about who kids are allowed to talk to and monitor their internet use.

8. A second opinion can help

Sometimes what’s wrong or right for our kids isn’t clear cut – perhaps your child has a learning difference and you wonder how screen time might affect their development. Or maybe you’d like to limit your family’s screen time, but just don’t know how to get everyone on board to stick to new boundaries. Whatever your family’s situation, our specialists can get to know your family’s needs and help you make confident choices in supporting your child’s development.

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Our specialists provide therapy to infants, children, adolescents, and adults to help them overcome the many challenges they may face throughout the lifespan of a family. We also conduct diagnostic testing of child and adult conditions that may impact the family’s mental health and development (e.g. ADHD, Autism Depression, Anxiety, Learning Disorders, college entrance exams, graduate and professional licensing exams such as MCAT, LSAT, GRE, CBEST, NCLEX, GMAT, CA Cosmetology Exam, CA Contractors State Licensing Exam, and CA Bar Exam).

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How to Cite This Blog Article:

Shinn. M.M. (2019). Is Screen Time Really That Bad for My Kid? Psychologically Speaking. [Variations Psychology blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.variationspsychology.com/blogs/is-screen-time-really-that-bad-for-my-kid