All of our lives have changed thanks to the cell phone. Everyday we interact with them: to chat with friends, to pay bills, to do just about anything. Now as a new generation of kids are born, a new generation of parents are reaching for the same device as a toy for their little ones. Unfortunately, research shows that more screen time equals worse mental and physical development. Fairview Range pediatrician Dr. Lisa Buenger shares the impact phones can have on young minds and provides the latest research and recommendations for handling screen time with kids.
According to Statica, by 2025 there will be over 18 billion mobile devices worldwide. That’s more than double the population of the earth. With this rise comes another startling fact from the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychology: US children between the ages of eight and 12 spend four to six hours a day looking or interacting with screens. This number rises to nine hours on average when it comes to teens. Even little ones are not immune.
“Screen time babysitters are becoming the new pacifiers,” says Dr. Buenger. “Parents are using it to calm or quiet children like you would use a pacifier or TV.”
This reliance on phones is leading to bad habits and other concerns. A study by JAMA Pediatrics, “found that more time per week spent on screens at ages 24 months and 36 months was linked with poorer performance on screening tests for behavioral, cognitive, and social development at 36 months.”
What kind of developmental issues do they notice? Attention concerns and signs of addictive behavior. Some may beg for the phone when it’s not around. There is also the chance of unintended exposure to violence, drug and sexual content if hackers have breached the children’s sites.
Screen phone addiction is not just a concern for little ones. It is leaving a large mark on today’s teens as well.
“Teenagers especially are constantly on their phones,” explains Dr. Buenger. “Social media is highly linked with depression/anxiety as well as sleep disturbances.”
In an idyllic world you would just cut out all phone use. But that is neither practical nor helpful in the long run. Eventually, your kid will need to understand tech and be able to use it properly. You can’t keep them from screens forever. How can parents help their kids navigate screen time in a healthy way?
Here are recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Under 18 Months
No screen time outside of video chatting with your family or friends.
Toddler (18 – 24 Months)
Little to no screen time recommended.
Screen time should entail co-watching educational content that lasts less than 1 hour. Sesame Workshop and PBS Kids are good examples.
Preschoolers (Aged 3-5 Years)
One hour is good.
Plan for screen time instead of using it to calm or distract the child.
Elementary School (Aged 6-10 Years)
Between one to one and a half hours a day.
Make sure to have limits on time spent on screens and the type of media they’re watching.
Middle School (Aged 11-13 Years)
Less than two hours a day.
Work with your kid to figure out a balance for their screen time.
Screen Home Rules
Here are some tips on creating healthy screen habits in your household.
- All phones/tablets should be out of the child’s bedroom at night at all times. Especially ages 10 and above, as this interferes significantly with sleep.
- Manage screen time using time-monitoring apps like Zift or Screen Time.
- Encourage earning screen time by waiting until they’ve finished tasks like brushing teeth or making their bed to watch.
- Be a role model. Limit your screen time as well.
- Build in media-free time for the family.
- Plan regular outdoor activities as a family
While you want your kid to understand technology, you also want them to develop well. By following these recommendations and having conversations with your kids about screen time, you’ll help them form healthy habits. But no one’s perfect. If you use phones to calm or distract, it’s okay. Just work on forming new ways to deal with their emotions that don’t rely on screens. It’s better to interact with the children when they’re being emotional and teach boundaries such as not touching things or showing how to calm themselves. It may not change overnight but with a little patience and practice, you’ll steer them on the right path.
If you have any questions or concerns about your child’s screen time, don’t hesitate to reach out to Fairview Range’s pediatric department. We’re always here to help. You can call 218-362-6937 to schedule an appointment.