How Much Screen Time is Bad for Kids?

We all know that too much screen time is bad for kids – in truth, it’s bad for us all! But, how much is too much?

For sure, sitting in front of a screen can be bad for kids. Then it’s good. Then it’s bad again, but this time perhaps only a bit! Confused? So were we… until we did some research.

It turns out that it’s not only how much screen time, but also what type of screen that counts!

These days, excessive screen time gets the blame for everything. From mental health issues and developmental problems through to childhood obesity, parents constantly worry about how much is too much.

Back in the days when television was pretty much the only screen around, kids were often warned they’d develop square-eyes from watching too much – to every child’s relief, this never happened to any of them, but today’s screen warnings are better informed and it is essential to take heed!

A recent study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, reports that increases in television viewing were associated with lower language, mathematics and composite test scores. Digging deeper, your teenager’s grades are likely to suffer more from TV-viewing than those of your younger kids, perhaps because young children, who learn from repetition, are more likely to reap educational benefits from watching TV.

And what of video games? These are also linked to lower composite academic scores, but not weaker math and language performance. Again, teenagers are at higher risk of too much screen time’s negative effects than younger children.

Of course, a certain amount of screen time is quite normal – even essential – in today’s world, but if you have to pry away your kid’s iPad every night at the dinner table, it may be time for a change.

The American Academy of Pediatrics gives a very useful guide to ‘how much is just enough’ screen time for our younger children…

Aged under 18 months: Screen time is not recommended at all – with the exception of occasional video calling with family. The reason? Children this young will spend their time better using hands-on exploration and real face-to-face social interaction.

Aged 18 – 24 months:

Keep screen time limited, always watch with your kids choosing educational content – and reteach the content after the show has finished. The reason? Watching age-appropriate shows can help your toddler learn words.

Aged 2 – 5 years:

Stay involved and keep screen time to one hour per day – help your kids understand what they’re watching and how it applies to their everyday lives. The reason? Many skills necessary for lifelong success are best taught through social — not digital — play, so be sure to mix in outdoor and group play activities too!

Aged 6 years and older:

Set reasonable limits to make sure digital screens don’t replace real-life interactions and physical activity.

In fact, a separate study by the UK’s University of Oxford has taken things a stage further and quantified the point where type of screen use for adolescents flips from beneficial to negative. For example, they found that up to 1 hour 40 minutes per day of video play could be beneficial, as is up to 1 hour 57 minutes of smartphone use.

Up to 3 and a half hours of TV or video watching, and just over 4 hours of general computer use could also be beneficial. However – perhaps not all on the same day, and it is important to note that slipping beyond these time limits can have a rapidly detrimental effect on our youngsters!

What’s the takeaway from all this?

Think critically about screen use, particularly for older children: monitor snacking during screen time, control content and duration on a family-basis, engage in non-screen family-time, and prevent screen use right before bed.

Essentially however, our message is that it’s okay to let our children go play some video games! For sure, let them enjoy themselves surfing the web! Do make sure to teach them the social norms around communicating on the internet though, and be sure they get enough sleep and don’t forget to take them for a regular eye test!

What about digital eye strain? Studies have found that more than half of those who routinely use digital devices display symptoms of what’s become known as digital eye strain. What’s the solution? Find out here

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