Destiny Molatore |

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January 19, 2014
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Kids and electronic media: How much is too much? | Moms

How much screen time is too much for kids?

I recently read that my generation is the last to remember life before the internet. I do remember it, barely.

Not only are those of us raising children now the last generation to remember life before the internet, but we are the first generation to raise children with exposure to so many forms of electronic media.

Over the course of the last three decades, we have seen the transition from landlines, to car phones, to cell phones, to smart phones. We transitioned from snail mail, to email, to instant messenger and social media.

Our children can navigate televisions, smartphones, tablets, and computers. They also have video games and apps on our handheld devices.

It is hard to believe that most of the technology that is part of our daily life today didn’t exist just a few short years ago.

We all know that too much television and game time is bad, but what are the effects of electronic media usage on children? How much is too much? When should it be avoided entirely?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reports that children spend an average of seven hours a day on entertainment media, such as televisions, computers, phones and other devices.

Dr. Aric Sigman is a psychologist and biologist who has studied and written widely on the effect of screen media on children. In the Archives of Disease in Childhood, he says that the average 10-year-old has access to five different screens at home and a child born today will spend a full year in front of screen media by the time they are seven.

Dr. Sigman says, “To allow children to continue to watch this much screen media is an abdication of parental responsibility—truly hands-off parenting.” Ouch.

90 percent of parents report that their children younger than two watch some form of electronic media.

I typically use cartoons to occupy my two-and-a-half year old when I need to get something done, such as putting the baby down for a nap or cooking dinner. Apparently, I am not alone.

Parents report that they view television as a peacekeeper and safe activity for children while they are busy doing other things.

The AAP cites research indicating that while high quality, age appropriate programming may have some educational benefits for children older than two, no positive outcomes have been associated with screen time for children younger than two.

In fact, TV viewing for children younger than two has been associated with decreased speech.

Dr. Sigman says that prolonged periods of screen time for children can lead to attention problems. He says the brain chemical dopamine is released in response to “screen novelty.” Dopamine is a part of the brain’s reward system and is also associated with addictive behavior and the inability to pay attention.

Studies have also found that media use has been associated with obesity, sleep issues, aggressive behaviors, and attention issues in preschool and school-aged children.

A study published in Pediatrics in 2010 found that preteens who spent more than two hours a day watching television were 60 percent more likely to have psychological problems than their peers who watched less.

Even background media, such as a parent watching a program with a child present, can be harmful. Research primarily performed on adolescents suggest that background media might interfere with cognitive processing, memory, and reading comprehension.

The AAP discourages electronic media viewing for children younger than two years old. They suggest having “screen-free” zones in your home and discourage parents from putting televisions in their children’s bedrooms.

Parents should also be aware of the effect of their own media consumption on their children.

Various sources recommend limiting screen time to 1-2 hours for children of all ages. Dr. Sigman says children younger than three should have little to no screen time, ages three to seven should be limited to an hour and a half, and children seven to 18 should not view more than two hours a day.

After doing the research, I am going to be much more conscious of how much time my children spend with televisions, phones and tablets.

Maybe one of the best things I can do for my children is set a good example. I don’t need to have the TV on during the day. I never really watch it anyway. If I can demonstrate an active lifestyle that isn’t dependent on screen media, hopefully my children will follow suit.

no positive outcomes have been associated with screen time for children younger than two.

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The News-Review Updated Sep 15, 2014 09:27AM Published Jan 28, 2014 11:16AM Copyright 2014 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.