Digital devices are almost always within arm’s reach, especially cell phones, and while adults struggle spending too much time in front of screens, so do children. UnityPoint Health Pediatrician Scott Oelberg, DO, breaks down screen time for kids, including what’s age-appropriate and tips for parenting in the digital age.
Dr. Oelberg admits not all screen time for kids is bad. But, parents should have an idea of what their child is doing while on a device.
“I don’t think of screen time as all bad or good because there are many different activities children are doing,” Dr. Oelberg says. “Some of which are educational and enriching, others can be a waste of time.”
Dr. Oelberg says it’s a good idea to keep children under 2 years old away from screens. While that may seem impossible, he says it’s a good goal to strive toward.
“Often, screens are used to pacify children without enriching content. It is often the result of giving in to behaviors, such as whining, crying, etc.,” Dr. Oelberg says.
Spending hours behind a screen also reduces the amount of time spent interacting with parents, caregivers and other children.
“Children who are constantly playing on a phone or looking down at an electronic device will miss opportunities to engage socially with peers and parents. It makes them difficult to satisfy with simple activities, such a reading a book and playing creatively with toys,” Dr. Oelberg says.
Signs of Too Much Screen Time for Kids
One of the biggest way parents can observe their child is getting too much screen time is by the impact it has on his/her sleep schedule.
“If kids are using electronic devices late into the evening or allowed to go to bed playing on an iPad, this can delay them falling to sleep, which can have significant impact on their behaviors during the daytime,” Dr. Oelberg says.
He recommends not allowing children to have a computer or TV alone in their bedroom.
Screen Time for Teens
Another hard topic is deciding when to give your child a cell phone. Dr. Oelberg says there’s no easy answer. However, he suggests waiting as long as possible.
“Once you go down that road, you really can’t turn back. Generally, when children are old enough to stay home alone is when they are old enough to handle having a phone of their own, typically around 12 to 14-years-old,” Dr. Oelberg says.
5 Tips for Parenting in the Digital Age
It’s by no means easy, and technology is almost certain to keep advancing. But, here are some tips Dr. Oelberg gives parents.
- Be a role model. That means YOU need to put down your devices, too. The best way for parents to do this is to lead by example, not being on the phone all the time. Engage with your children, read books, sing songs, color and draw with them. If they see you doing something, they will automatically want to be a part of it.
- Keep track of time. Try to abide by the two hours of screen time rule for kids 3 years old and over. Dr. Oelberg says it can be hard to know how much time your child is spending on devices at school. He suggests just focusing on their screen time at home and being consistent with it. Here are a few apps you can try: Screen Time Parental Control, OurPact and Kidslox.
- Play along. Instead of just giving your child the iPad or smartphone, the American Academy of Pediatrics suggest parents take a “media mentor” role. Family participation with media helps social interactions and learning.
- Watch what they’re doing online. Use the parental controls on computers, phones and tables. Dr. Oelberg also suggests staying up-to-date on technology that your children might be interacting with, and don’t be afraid to question children about their online activity. Have conversations with your children about how they use electronics, how to be safe and how to protect their privacy.
- Create tech-free zones. Preserve family mealtime by turning off all screens to encourage discussion around the table. Also, recharge devices outside your child’s bedroom to reduce temptation.
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