During the COVID-19 pandemic, most children are spending more time on screens since other activities are limited. With children also participating in virtual learning, many parents are concerned that this increased use of screen time could be detrimental to their child’s development. A Rutgers pediatrician discusses the research on screen time for children, and how families can come up with a plan that is thoughtful, and also realistic.
A 2019 study in JAMA Pediatrics found that children age 8 and younger typically spend up to three hours a day looking at screens. The researchers found that screen time is linked to deficits and delays in developmental outcomes such as communication skills, problem-solving, and social interactions among young children. While the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that screen time for preschool-aged children be limited to one hour per day, this limit—and its effect on child development—still is being debated.
Manuel Jimenez, MD, MS, FAAP, assistant professor of pediatrics and family medicine and community health and director of developmental and behavioral pediatrics education at the Boggs Center on Developmental Disabilities at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, says that more important than time spent on devices is the quality of the screen exposure. A parent interacting with a child using a tablet is a different experience from a child playing video games alone, for example.
He explains that now more than ever, it is important to be mindful about the quality of screen time. Under COVID-19 current conditions with children using screens for remote learning, choices become even more important. Since children are spending more time on their screens for education, Dr. Jimenez suggests non-educational screen time should be evaluated more critically, and used less.
“We as parents must think about our child’s exposure to screens mindfully and come up with a family plan for usage.” He continues, “Have room for modifications, but discuss the amount of time your children will spend on screens for education versus recreation, and time on other activities like playing outside or doing crafts.”
A father of three children under age eight, Dr. Jimenez shares, “We often forget how creative kids can be. With a little planning, we can find activities that don’t involve all the bells and whistles of media that are really effective. This is an opportunity to channel inner child and think about things we used to find entertaining before screens.”
Dr. Jimenez suggests that parents evaluate the content that their children are accessing. Ask:
- Does the content encourage interaction between parent and child?
- Does it focus on developing academic skills, and if so, what types of skills?
- Does it enrich learning (for example, a video of a volcano that can’t be seen in person)?
- Is it taking away from other activities, such as playing outside, reading, taking part in sports, or doing things as a family?
- Will the child be exposed to advertising or other marketing messages?
Other Tips for Parents:
- Consider common-sense limits on the quantity of screen time and focus on the quality of the content your child is consuming.
- Sit down as a family and make a plan about screen time—create a structure of time spent and make sure there aren’t surprises.
- Screen-free zones in the house such as in the bedroom or at the dinner table. If your child uses his or her phone as an alarm, switching it to airplane mode will block all other alerts.
- Check out the American Academy of Pediatrics for more tips.
Read tips from Dr. Jimenez about online learning here.