How to manage kids' screentime during the pandemic
COVID-19 has changed the way everyone interacts, from where we work to who we see to how kids are learning. In 2020, millions of American children are engaging in virtual learning—an approach to education where assignments are uploaded to platforms, class discussions are held over video calls and teachers livestream lectures.
School used to be a time where students had to keep their devices in their backpacks and participate in classroom discussions and interactions. Now, school has turned into something that is accessed almost entirely through a screen.
Children are getting more screen time than ever before. Which leaves many parents wondering, how much screen time is healthy?
How much screen time should a child have per day?
Recommended screen time for kids depends on a child's age. The American Academy of Pediatrics provides the following recommendations:
Children under two years old:
- Very limited screen time (less than one hour per day)
- Only with an adult present (example: video-chatting family members)
Children two to five years old:
- One hour or less per day
- Media that is interactive, non-violent and educational
- Should be supervised with co-view or co-play
Encourage and engage your children to participate in other fun and healthy activities.
Children five to 18 years old:
- Screen time should be tailored to each child
- Should be filtered (using media parental controls) or supervised
On average, kids ages eight to 12 spend four to six hours per day with screens, and up to nine hours as teens, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Some, like the American Heart Association, have gone so far as to suggest that that number should stay under two hours.
What's important to remember when finding your own house rules during this difficult time is that children and teens need more sleep (as much as 12 hours for teens) and an hour of physical activity. That only allows for a few hours of screen time that's unrelated to online learning screen time.
Why is screen time bad?
Too much screen time for kids can lead to long-lasting adverse health effects. The American Academy of Pediatrics reports the following negative effects of screen time on children:
- Impaired sleep. Screens overstimulate and distract. Blue light delays the release of melatonin and affect your child's circadian rhythm.
- Delays in learning and social skills. Infants and toddlers who have too much screen time can miss out on important play that helps them learn life skills like turn-taking, social interaction and coping skills. This can lead to delays in attention, language, creative thinking and social skills.
- Obesity. Frequent media use of preschool-aged children is linked to weight gain and increased risk of childhood obesity.
- Behavior problems. Screen time has a severe impact on sleep. As a result, according to this and other studies, children with a lot of screen time have an elevated chance of developing behavioral issues.
How much screen time for kids is OK during the pandemic?
Children's screen time is surging by up by 60% as a result of the pandemic. While normal recommendations (less than one hour for kids under the age of two and optimally less than two hours of recreational screen time for kids over the age of two) were created during normal circumstances, parents should still consider their child's age, interest and needs when determining how much screen time is appropriate.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends families develop a Family Media Plan. This tool customizes screen time recommendations for every child depending on their age and unique needs. When asking the question, "How much screen time should kids have?" it's important to track what their normal day looks like, and schedule in plenty of breaks.
The Office of Educational Technology recommends the following guiding principles for early learner technology use:
- "Technology—when used appropriately—can be a tool for learning."
- "Technology should be used to increase access to learning opportunities for all children."
- "Technology may be used to strengthen relationships among parents, families, early educators, and young children."
- "Technology is more effective for learning when adults and peers interact or co-view with young children."
What are some creative ways to limit screen time for kids?
It can be difficult to limit screen time for kids, especially during the pandemic. If parents are trying to work from home and kids aren't able to participate in normal activities, that leaves a lot of time to fill.
Local and state parks - Most parks are open every day of the year for walking, hiking, biking and other outdoor activities. Make a family goal to hike a new trail every week.
Libraries - Many local libraries offer drive-thru service to pick-up and drop-off books, games and activity kits.
At Reid Health, we also offer resources that would be helpful to parents raising children during this pandemic. From tips to staying healthy to free coloring pages for kids, we offer great services for those in a time of need.