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Kids and screen time: What do the experts say?

As adults, we know that sedentary lifestyles and the smartphones treated like an extra appendage aren’t doing our health any favors. But how are these habits affecting young children? 
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) children under 5 years of age must spend less time sitting watching screens, or restrained in strollers and seats; get better quality sleep; and have more time for active play to grow up healthy. 
“Children mimic their parents’ screen use, so it’s also important to model good screen behavior and limited use in front of your child,” says pediatrician Amy Seery, MD, with Ascension Via Christi. 
When it comes to screen time and physical activity, WHO recommends that: 

  • Infants: 
    • Be physically active several times a day in a variety of floor-based activities, including “tummy time”
    • Have absolutely no screen time other than video-chatting with friends and family wanting to interact with your little one
  • Children 1-2 years of age:
    • Spend at least 180 minutes in a variety of physical activities at any intensity
    • Have no sedentary screen time watching TV or videos up to age 2 and no more than one hour per day between ages 2 – 3
  • Children 3-4 years of age should: 
    • Spend at least 180 minutes in a variety of physical activities at any intensity 
    • Limit sedentary screen time to no more than one hour per day.

Additionally,  the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that you: 

  • Make your own family media use plan. Media should work for you and within your family values and parenting style. When used thoughtfully and appropriately, media can enhance daily life. But when used inappropriately or without thought, media can displace many important activities such as face-to-face interaction, family-time, outdoor-play, exercise, unplugged downtime and sleep. Make your plan at HealthyChildren.org/MediaUsePlan.
  • Create tech-free zones. Keep family mealtimes, family and social gatherings, and children's bedrooms screen-free. Turn off the television when you aren't watching as background TV can get in the way of face-to-face time with kids. Recharge devices outside your child’s bedroom to help avoid the temptation to use them when they should be sleeping. These changes encourage more family time, healthier eating habits and better sleep.
  • Don't use technology as an emotional pacifier. Media can be very effective in keeping kids calm and quiet, but it should not be the only way they learn to calm down. Children need to be taught how to identify and handle strong emotions, come up with activities to manage boredom, or calm down through breathing, talking about ways to solve the problem, and finding other strategies for channeling emotions.

“Using a screen now to help calm your child might work in the moment, but sets you up for a massive battle later,” says Dr. Seery. “Plus it’s better to help your child learn to process their feelings and frustrations now rather than get overwhelmed by the mega-tantrums that will only get worse over time.”

 

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