Summer is in full swing and with school out many children have hours of free time. Although numerous indoor and outdoor activities are available, data shows that children and young people spend hours looking at screens.
According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, children ages 8 to 12 in the United States spend an average of 4 to 6 hours a day viewing or using screens, with adolescents spending up to 9 hours doing so.
Screen time includes watching TV, spending time on the computer, playing video games, or spending time with tablets and phones, says Allison Hensley, MD, a general pediatrician at Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital.
For and against
And while some screen time can be beneficial for entertainment, education, and children’s general engagement, it’s not without its downsides.
According to Hensley, screen time negatively affects children and young people in the following ways:
- Increases childhood obesity
- Increases cardiometabolic diseases – such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease
- Disrupts sleep
- Increases mental problems
- Promotes risky lifestyle habits such as unhealthy food and drink intake, digital addiction or screen addiction
She adds that social media, especially among older children and adolescents, can be dangerous and can lead to digital addiction or screen addiction, depression, anxiety, and the risk of exposure to cyberbullying, age-appropriate and violent content, or sexual exploitation.
However, when used and monitored properly, it is not all bad. “It can provide social support that might not be received elsewhere,” says Hensley. “Among youth, social media and networking sites increase feelings of connectedness among peers and can foster more diverse friendships.”
Other social media specific benefits include:
- Opportunities for learning and education
- Improving school performance by improving knowledge and literacy skills
how much is too much
So the question is, how much is too much? According to Hensley, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently updated its recommendations for media use.
- Avoid screen time other than video chat for children under 18 months
- Watch media together with your children under 5 years old
- Limit screen use for children ages 2-5 to one hour per day
- For school-age children and young people, limit screen use to no more than two hours a day for recreational purposes—for example, excluding the time they spend on homework or schoolwork
It may be easier said than done for some parents in the summertime to come up with alternatives to phones or TVs to keep their kids entertained outside of school. A list of personal tasks, chores, or other non-screen activities that need to be selected or completed before using screens can be helpful alternatives.
Hensley suggests the following activities that could be fun and stimulating for both you and your child:
- Read or edit academic summer workbooks,
- Attend summer camps
- to play board games
- Have creative play sessions
- Experiment with arts and crafts
- Use building blocks or Legos
- Find a favorite outdoor activity like biking, playing outside, or swimming
- Engage in real-world skills—cooking, baking, chores, or repairs together
In addition, the AAP recommends creating a personalized family media use plan, which Hensley says helps families think about media and create goals and rules that align with each family’s values.
Learning active habits from a young age is key
Teaching children an active lifestyle versus a sedentary one at a young age can have an impact on the rest of their lives.
The AAP recommends that children and teens get at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity each day. In addition, muscle and bone strengthening activities should be included on at least three days per week.
“Children and adolescents are vulnerable and easily influenced, and the habits formed in childhood carry over into adulthood,” says Hensley. “It is therefore important for parents to teach their children healthy habits, such as eating. B. monitoring screen time and regular physical activity.”
Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital is here to support you. Make an appointment with your pediatrician if you have any questions or concerns about your child’s overall health.