Banner Health Services  

Screen time for kids

 

Janeen Bjork, MD is chief of staff at Page Hospital in Page, Ariz.

Question: I feel bad about this but sometimes I resort to using the television and computer as a babysitter for my kids so I can get some work done around the house? How bad is this?

Answer: No doubt about it — TV, interactive video games, and the Internet can be excellent sources of education and entertainment for kids. But too much screen time can have unhealthy side effects.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that kids under age 2 have no screen time, and that kids older than 2 watch no more than 1 to 2 hours a day of quality programming.

According to the AAP, unstructured play time is more valuable for the developing brain than electronic media. Children learn to think creatively, problem solve, and develop reasoning and motor skills at early ages through unstructured, unplugged play. Free play also teaches them how to entertain themselves. Also, young children learn best from—and need—interaction with humans, not screens.

Here are some practical ways to make kids' screen time more productive:

  • Limit the number of TV-watching hours:
    o Keep TVs out of kids' bedrooms.
    o Turn off the TV during meals.
    o Don't allow your child to watch TV while doing homework.
    o Treat TV as a privilege that kids need to earn — not a right that they're entitled to. Tell them that TV viewing is allowed only after chores and homework are completed.
  • Try a weekday ban. Schoolwork, sports activities, and job responsibilities make it tough to find extra family time during the week.
  • Set a good example. Limit your own TV viewing.
  • Check the TV listings and program reviews. Look for programs your family can watch together (i.e., developmentally appropriate and nonviolent programs that reinforce your family's values). Choose shows, says the AAP, that foster interest and learning in hobbies and education (reading, science, etc.).
  • Preview programs. Make sure you think they're appropriate before your kids watch them.
  • Use the ratings. Age-group rating tools have been developed for some TV programs and usually appear in newspaper TV listings and onscreen during the first 15 seconds of some TV programs.
  • Use screening tools. Many new standard TV sets have internal V-chips (V stands for violence) that let you block TV programs and movies you don't want your kids to see.
  • Come up with a family TV schedule. Come up with something the entire family agrees on.
  • Watch TV with your child. If you can't sit through the whole program, at least watch the first few minutes to assess the tone and appropriateness, then check in throughout the show.
    • Talk to kids about what they see on TV and share your own beliefs and values. If something you don't approve of appears on the screen, turn off the TV and use the opportunity to ask your child thought-provoking questions such as, "Do you think it was OK when those men got in that fight?
Page Last Modified: 11/17/2011
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