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Screen Time… How much is too much?

June 6, 2017

 

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Over the last several years, the matter regarding “screen time” (time spent using a device such as a computer, smartphone, television, or games console) for children has been a hot topic among educators and parents. Many experts have noted the negatives of too much time spent looking at screens – and I don’t disagree with them.  However, with the proliferation of devices, apps, and opportunities for learning that are delivered via screens – how can we effectively manage the time children spend on looking at screens?

First, we need to understand that not all “screen time” is created equal.  Watching cartoon videos on YouTube and reading a book on an iPad are two very different activities, both delivered on screens. While one may have little educational value, the other can help with reading comprehension, content knowledge, vocabulary/culture acquisition and more.  There are also thousands of educational apps that children can use to create music, learn a new language, enhance math skills, and more.  It’s vital that we consider the content and purpose on the screen with setting targets for use.

Second, it can’t be an all or nothing proposition.  Screens are here, and here to stay.  Wise parents and educators should focus on giving children guidelines for appropriate use of electronic devices. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests limiting screen time for young children.  The recommended time varies with age. The AAP recommends no screen time at all for children under eighteen months. Between the ages of two and five, limit screen time to less than an hour per day.  As children become school aged, the regulating screen time becomes more complicated.  Evaluating the “type” of screen time is important.  While too much of the wrong kind of screen time can be harmful or detrimental to early childhood development, not all screen time is necessarily bad.  We have to be flexible – meeting the learning and developmental needs of all students.

An interesting study out of UCLA finds that children exposed to excessive screen time do not develop the ability to recognize emotion, interact appropriately with age-mates, or socialize with age-appropriate skill.

The focus should be on balance.  Limiting screen time is important; children also need time for physical activity, social interaction (without technology) and quiet time for reflection.

With summer vacation around the corner, it’s important for parents and families to consider what type of balance will work for them and also benefit the development of well-rounded, grounded children.

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