When Is It Time To "Unplug" - Setting Limits On Screen Time

There is an enormous amount of digital interaction available to kids of all ages.

A lot of what is being offered is really great; it's educational, has positive messages and gives parents a little break. The challenge is in figuring out when too much of a good thing becomes detrimental.

The US Department of Health and Human Services estimates that American children spend up to seven hours a day in front of electronic media. So why is too much time screen time not good for children, what kind of effect does this have on them?

A number of studies have been done surrounding this question and what I found most concerning in these studies was the effect too much screen time has on brain development. For example, between birth and age three, our brains develop quickly. The influences in the first few years of a child's development are extremely important because it builds a foundation for later development. Too much screen time can impede the ability to focus, develop social skills, and build vocabulary.

Even beyond the first 3 years, in order for normal brain development to continue children need stimuli from the outside environment and personal interactions. Reading a story to your child, is far more enriching then a story being told from an electronic device. No matter the age, one-on-one conversation is not just about words; it's also how we develop the ability to understand social cues, facial expressions, voice inflections, and make meaningful connections. Siri can be really helpful but no replacement for humans.

So – what is a healthy amount of time for kids to spend on digital media?

There is no magic number but here are some guidelines presented by the American Academy of Pediatrics:

Infants 18 months and younger: No screen time

Banning screen time for babies is so important for brain development and healthy parent-child connections.

Children 2 to 5 years: One hour per day

Prioritize creative, unplugged playtime for infants and toddlers

Children 6 years and older: Limit digital media

An average day includes "school, homework time, at least one hour of physical activity, social contact and sleep, whatever's left over can be screen time."

However, there are exceptions, I remember when my son was young, I had the flu and there wasn't anyone available to come over and help me look after him. Well, that day we watched Lady and the Tramp about 10 times in a row. I still know all the songs. What really matters is that screen time should be monitored at any age.