Until recently, the official answer from groups like the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and Canadian Pediatric Society (CPS) was basically as little as possible!
Whether watching TV or sitting at the computer, staring too long at a screen has been tied to many different issues—from vision and sleep problems to low attention spans and more. Plus, you need real human interaction, exercise, fresh air, and time to play, read, and create…
And none of that comes from screens, right?
Changing the times for changing times
Except that that’s not exactly true anymore. Today, we use smartphones, tablets, and computers to do everything from video chatting with family and exchanging notes with friends, to playing challenging games and even making our own movies.
Knowing that an update was needed, new guidelines were released by the AAP in October 2016, and the CPS in June 2017. Before the new guidelines, the AAP recommended that kids and teens not exceed two hours of screen time a day. But when screens are used for so many things, is it really reasonable to say that you can only spend two hours in front of a screen a day? What about using a computer in class? Or reading the news? Or keeping in touch with friends and family?
All in good (screen) time
The new guidelines aren’t about time limits. Instead, they ask that kids and teens are clear about what the screens are used for with their parents. Families discuss together what the limits should be, which sites and activities are okay, and which ones aren’t.
The guidelines also ask that screens not get in the way of the other things that make for a healthy, well-rounded life. This includes having:
- 1 hour of physical activity a day
- 8 to 10 hours of sleep a night
- no devices or TVs on during meals
- no devices in the bedroom during sleeping
- about 1 hour away from screens before bedtime
The guidelines are trying to make sure that screen time doesn’t take away from important things like sleep, exercise, social interaction (conversation, family games, etc.), and other activities such as reading a book.
Overall, the message seems to be: Use screens a) as long as your family agrees to how and why you’re using them, and b) as long as they’re not taking over your life.
Many experts still feel pretty strongly about keeping your screen time to a minimum if possible. (No, it’s not because they hate Pokémon GO.)
There are lots of studies that show that all humans (adults, too) are much better off without screens at certain times, especially before bed. Screens emit something called blue light, which fools our internal clocks into thinking that it’s still daytime. This means that the secretion of the hormone melatonin—key to sleep—is blocked. And that means you have real trouble getting a good night’s sleep (and probably even more trouble getting up for school in the morning!).
Then there are issues of safety. From suggestive advertising on TV to crime on the internet, screens can be a gateway to everything from identity theft to online predators. Scary stuff, we know! And again, it’s not just something kids worry about—ask your parents about the junk emails they get asking for their credit card number (don’t do it, Dad!). Ultimately, talking as a family about what we all see on our computer and TV screens is a wise move.