One feature that sets the modern era apart from the past is our ever increasing access to screens. It started with film, then television. Now smartphones and tablets serve up a vast library of media choices whenever we wish.
Of course, there is also a downside to our screen-driven indulgences. Mounting evidence links excessive screen time (more than two hours a day) to heart disease, ADD, sleeping problems, aggression, and obesity. A study published last month in JAMA Psychiatry examining the television watching habits of over 3,000 individuals over 25 years found that the heaviest TV consumers scored significantly lower on cognitive function tests.
Based on the research, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggests that careful management of media use may help prevent some of the damaging effects of screen time gluttony. Current AAP guidelines call for no screens for children under two years old, and no more than two hours a day of high-quality, educational content for older kids. An updated set of media use guidelines is expected later this year.
But this media-limiting message often gets lost amid an endless stream of increasingly desirable devices. Today young people spend on average about seven hours a day in front of a screen (not including the school work that increasingly requires a screen interface).
Epoch Times spoke to Dr. Jean Moorjani, a pediatrician at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Orlando, Florida, for her suggestions on how parents can best manage technology consumption.
Epoch Times: Why is it important to limit children’s screen time?
Dr. Jean Moorjani: Because the longer they spend time with screens the less time they have for actual face-to-face interactions. Also, when kids are bored they’re forced to be creative and use their imaginations. They play. They get up, and get active. The more they use a screen, the more they have a sedentary lifestyle.
There is definitely a role for screens. But parents should be in control of what gets downloaded, and use the parental control and restrictions. And make sure kids have something educational available to them.
Epoch Times: How can parents determine the quantity and quality of media their kids consume?
Dr. Moorjani: It depends on the age. My five-year-old doesn’t need any screen time. There is nothing she’s doing for school that requires it.
The American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendation of no screens at all for anybody under the age of two will probably not change when it comes to their revised screen time and media use guidelines. We know that for anybody under the age of two, actually talking to a parent or another person is so much better for their brains.
After two they used to recommend limiting screen time to under two hours a day. But that recommendation came about the same time that the first iPad was released. Now there is this tablet explosion where there are so many devices and apps these days for kids that pediatricians are focusing more on the quality of content.
If parents are looking for an educational app, that can be a little challenging because there are about 80,000 apps that claim to be educational. Parents and educators really need to look at these things and decide what is really an educational and creative app, and what is just a push-and-swipe, consumptive-type app.
A source I like parents and families to check out is CommonSenseMedia.org. The website ranks and rates all these different apps based on quality of education.
Epoch Times: Are there any behavioral signs that kids are consuming too much media?
Dr. Moorjani: If they all of sudden become more withdrawn, don’t want to talk, or demonstrate out of the ordinary behavior that’s always a red flag.
Social media is another area where parents and pediatricians can offer guidance to become good digital citizens, because with this comes cyberbullying. If parents let their kids have an online profile, they should also know their username and password. Tell them what’s okay and what’s not okay. If someone is bothering or harassing them, make sure they tell you right away. Setting some of those ground rules beforehand is a good educational time for parents to let kids know what’s out there.
I remember my parents teaching me proper telephone etiquette. I was taught to say, “Hello, this is Jeannie, may I please speak to my friend.” And you would only call at appropriate times. I may not teach my kids the same telephone etiquette my parents taught me, but I’m going to end up teaching them what’s okay to do on a social media website. This is a new avenue of parenting for us.
Epoch Times: How do we teach our kids to properly manage their own screen time?
Dr. Moorjani: It depends on their age, and it depends on the kids too. Some may have better discipline than others, but I think our role as parents is to let them know that having an iPad or smartphone is definitely a privilege and not a right. It comes with rules and limits.
Not all kids are going to be able to limit themselves. So when a child gets that smartphone or tablet, parents should make a rule that in the house we have what I like to call screen free time. That means nobody, including mom and dad, should be on a screen at that time. For example, any time the family is sitting down and having a meal together we should put all the phones and tablets away so that the family can interact and talk to each other.
Families can make screen free time for moments that work best for them. Some families don’t allow it after dinner so kids can do their homework. If the school requires a computer for their assignment, obviously they would need that for their homework.
Another time to limit screens is during bedtime. When kids are supposed to be sleeping, parents should have the phone or the tablet should be in possession of the parents, because I think they can be too much of a temptation at night. Our kids need their sleep.
I have friend who caught her 11-year-old texting at 11:00 at night. And I said, “Well, take her phone. She’s supposed to be asleep.” As a pediatrician sometimes you have to remind parents that, “You are the parent. You provide this as a privilege to them.”
Epoch Times: Is it important for parents to also restrict their screen time as well?
Dr. Moorjani: It’s very easy to get consumed by your iPhone or iPad, I’m guilty of it too. But as parents we are still our kids’ biggest role models. So it’s going to be difficult to teach our kids one way when we’re breaking all these rules.