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Screen Time: How Much is Too Much?

The Game Connoisseur


Last updated 9/1/2017 at 4:47am | View PDF

I am often asked what my thoughts are about appropriate amounts of screen time for people of various ages. The answer of course is different for everyone, but it all comes down to one word: balance. In 2016 the American Pediatric Association (APA) updated their recommendations for screen time to reflect the wide variety of devices available at any given time. Previously, in 1999, they put out a controversial guideline, stated in absolute terms: “no screen time for kids under 2.” This was revised a few times, but stayed primarily the same, until the advent of 2-way video, especially Facetime and Skype. Live conversations with family members represented a new type of media use, and many parents simply did not count this as “screen time.” To keep up with the times (and behaviors), the APA put out a series of recommendations based around the concept of family balance, with general guidelines around various developmental stages. Their primary recommendations include:

● For children younger than 18 months, avoid use of screen media other than video-chatting.

● Parents of children 18 to 24 months of age who want to introduce digital media should choose high-quality programming, and watch it with their children to help them understand what they're seeing.

● For children ages 2 to 5 years, limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programs. Parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them.

● For children ages 6 and older, place consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health.

● Designate media-free times together, such as dinner or driving, as well as media-free locations at home, such as bedrooms.

● Have ongoing communication about online citizenship and safety, including treating others with respect online and offline.

Up to 2016, I disagreed with the APA, and viewed them as out-of-touch and old-school. Fortunately these most recent guidelines seem very sensible and reasonable, especially in that they give control back to the families, and allow some flexibility in deciding what is appropriate for any given family situation. Their is a bit of a caveat with their recommendations however: balance is easy to talk about, but much harder to actually achieve. For parents, we have relative control over our children's’ media use through about the time they have a cell phone. At that point, the control becomes split, and the child (or young adult), needs to begin to establish self-regulation skills, and to control their own behavior.

It takes incredible discipline, and even a basic understanding of human behavior and culture, for a teenager to navigate through their digitally entangled lives in a mature and responsible way. A recent quote from my own daughter was quite remarkable, and sheds some light on what goes through a teenager’s mind: “my friends feel that if they do not document what they are doing on some sort of social media, it never happened.” She wasn’t happy with the situation, and wished they could just hang out together, in the moment, and not worry about documenting everything on social media. Nonetheless, when she talked to me about this, she said with some resignation that for many in this generation, the “real world” is the digital world.

In the end parents understand that patterns established in childhood carry through into adulthood, and we are always looking to do what is best for our children. This may be easy to do while they are young, but as your child gets older it is important that you help them to come to understand balance themselves. The APA has embedded throughout their recommendations conversations and communication between parents and children, which I completely agree with. I sincerely believe that every parent, and every child who is able to understand the report, should go through it together, and have an ongoing conversation about media use and screen time. In the words of the great Mister Miyagi: “Whole life have a balance. Everything be better. Understand?”

Dr. Anthony Betrus

State University of New York at Potsdam

The Game Connoisseur


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