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Screen Time, A Friend or Foe?

By: Sarah McNemar, MD

TV! Smart Watches! iPads! Oh My!

The digital world can be overwhelming to say the least. It can become even more complicated for parents who are trying to navigate modern culture AND make wise choices for their children and families. Digital media is a commonality of our world, but discerning what is helpful and what is ultimately harmful can be tricky!

Every child and every family is different, but the AAP (the American Academy of Pediatrics) does give helpful tips for media use to guide your family’s tech choices and support you in creating the perfect “media diet” for your children.

Screen Time by Ages

Children under 18 months: Avoid media use as much as possible, with the exception of video chatting. Let those babies see those grandparents!

18 months-24 months: If you choose to introduce media at this age, choose high quality programming with educational content, and watch it WITH your child to help them understand what they are seeing. This should be an interactive experience for you both!

2-5 years: Limit media use to under 1 hour per day, and watch it with your child. Talk about how you can apply what you are watching to their world. Choose educational programming that helps facilitate discussion with siblings and parents, and avoid any content that is disrespectful or violent. Remember, children will mimic what they see and hear! 

6 years and above: Use judgment for your family on how much time is appropriate, but place consistent limits on media and make sure media is not taking the place of other important activities (i.e. family mealtime, physical outside play, music, sports, sleep, socializing with REAL people and building community).

Again, choose content that is educational and helpful–if you watch a show together and there is not a “take away” message for you to discuss with your children, or you and your child did not learn anything from the show, it may not be the best show for your family.

Screen Time Tools

The AAP also has an online tool for helping you create a family media plan that works for you. I can’t express enough how much media use could vary family to family or situation to situation but I still would recommend this calculating tool if your family is having trouble finding a good balance.

I know for my own family, we came to an agreement to not use media at all on school days–our children know that we only have TV time on the weekends and that we will watch a movie or show as a family activity.

That said, don’t guilt yourself if you need to let your little ones watch a short show to get them through a specific, special situation (our boys get to watch a show while they get their hair cut, for example). If you start noticing that your children are grumpy, more disobedient, or struggle to transition away from media when their allotted time is up, it may just be time to take a media break to re-set the rules and expectations for your children.

Remember that YOU are the boss of what your children watch and learn, and that the first several years of their lives are so important in developing character and healthy habits for the long run. Also remember that you (and your family) are only human and that tomorrow is a new day, filled with opportunities to grow together and create new habits-or just slightly modify old ones!

Until next time,

Dr. Sarah McNemar

Parkside Provider, Medical Director (Powdersville), and humble parent

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