So, let’s start with screen time. The AAP recommends that if a child is less than 18 months, he or she should have no screen time unless it is in the setting of video chats with family/friends. For 2 to 5 year-olds, screen time should be limited to 1 hour per day or less, and the content should be high-quality and co-viewed with parents. For those children older than 5, a “family media plan” should be used to determine the optimal amount of viewing. Why is this important? More than 2 hours of “recreational” screen time has been associated with poor cognitive development. To put that in perspective, on average, 8 to 11 year-olds spend about 3 ½ hours per day watching a screen.
One of the other potential concerns with extra screen time is that there is often an associated loss of sleep. The guidelines for sleep suggest start with 12-16 hours from 4 to 12 months, 11-14 hours from 1 to 2 years, 10-13 hours from 3 to 5 years, 9-12 hours from 6 to 12 years, and 8-10 hours from 13 to 18 years. To help reach these goals, the AAP suggests not having screens in the bedroom of children and to turn off screens 30 minutes prior to bedtime. Lack of sleep alone can increase risk of depression, hypertension, obesity and general injuries, but combined with excess screen time there can also be loss of attention, memory, language ability and task completion.
Loss of sleep can also promote fatigue, which, in turn, can result in decreased likelihood of children reaching the recommended amount of physical activity daily. Starting as young as 1 year and until the age of 4, toddlers should have at least 1 and up to several hours of physical activity daily. Beginning at age 5 and until age 21, children should have at least one hour per day of moderate to vigorous activity, and vigorous activity should encompass at least 3 days per week.
Given the rising prevalence of childhood obesity, which affects nearly 1 in 5 children, and ADHD, which affects as many as 1 in 20, it seems important to minimize the chances of having a child affected by either of these conditions. By trying to encourage children to get outside (as much as Idaho weather will allow), perhaps we can help them find fun physical activities to do while decreasing screen time and helping them be tired enough to sleep well at night. Although with children having a mind of their own, I guess we’ll see. Good luck to all of the parents out there trying to incorporate tech into the lives of their children!