May 27, 2020 Local Stories in and Around St. Joseph, Illinois

Ask the Doctor with Dr. Jeanelle Murphy

How much screen time should my child have? What are the pros and cons for letting a toddler or grade school child use a tablet?

For children under 2 years of age, screen time is not recommended except to video chat with family or friends. For children ages 2-5 years of age, the recommendation is to limit screen time to one hour per day of high-quality programming. For older children there, is no hard and fast rule on how much time they should spend in front of screens but it is suggested that there be limits on screen time and that screen time not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity, face-to-face social interaction and homework. Other recommendations are to avoid allowing screens in children’s bedrooms, to charge devices outside of their bedrooms, to discourage screen time within an hour of bedtime and to schedule unplugged time such as at mealtime, while driving and one night a week. It is suggested that parents monitor the type of media children are exposed to during screen time by watching with them, using parental controls that limit content and time spent on screens. Violent content, as well as inappropriate content for the child’s age, should be avoided. Organizations such as Common Sense Media can help parents decide if the certain media content is appropriate for their child and family.

There are benefits of screen time for children over 2 years of age including exposure to educational programs that encourages learning and for school-age children enabling participation in school-related work and research-especially now when children must stay home rather than attend school due to the threat of Covid-19. Video games have been shown to improve motor skills and coordination. Social media, texting and shared video games are fun ways to socialize and communicate with friends if done responsibly. There are also apps that encourage healthful behaviors such as regular exercise, healthy food choices and good sleep.

There are also downsides to screen time for children including slowing language development in younger children, hindering creative thinking by taking the place of activities such as stacking blocks, creating with clay or Play-Doh and reading. Too much screen time encourages a sedentary lifestyle, can cause problems with sleep, and may result in less face to face interaction with others. There is also a problem with exposure to harmful content on the internet.

In summary, limited screen time for educational and social purposes can be beneficial for children however excessive screen time or inappropriate content exposure over screens can be harmful. When using screens set limits on time and content and be sure to make time for screen-free family and friend interaction, real-world learning, physical activity and play.

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