Reston Hospital Center - July 15, 2019

With more media options that can go anywhere and an endless supply of content on the internet, kids are getting more “screen time” – time spent watching TV or using a computer or mobile device – than ever.

Now, new research is warning parents to reduce their kids’ screen time.

Preliminary results from one study by the National Institutes of Health show that the brains of some children who play video games or use mobile devices more than seven hours a day are different than the brains of other kids. The study also found that kids who spent more than two hours a day in front of a screen got lower scores on language and thinking tests.

Another study found that kids who use screens for seven hours or more every day are twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression or anxiety than kids who sit in front of a screen for one hour a day.

How much screen time do kids get?

The most recent numbers from the Kaiser Family Foundation show that today’s youth between the ages of 8 and 18 spend about 7 1/2 hours a day in front of a screen for entertainment.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention break this down even further:

  • The average screen time for children between the ages of 8 and 10 is six hours.
  • The average screen time for kids between the ages of 11 and 14 is nine hours.
  • The average screen time for teens between the ages of 15 and 18 is 7 1/2 hours.

These numbers only reflect screen time for entertainment – kids likely spend additional time every day in front of a screen for schoolwork or homework.

Tips to encourage playtime

With summer in full swing, you might be looking for ways to fill in the time while school is out. The best way to reduce screen time is to encourage playtime. Planning your days in advance is also a good way to ensure screen time doesn’t become the main source of entertainment.

In the summer, keep kids busy with weeklong camps, play dates, trips to nearby parks, museums and historic sites, and other fun outdoor activities.

Other ways to incorporate playtime and exercise into every day throughout the year include:

  • Have a daily schedule that includes at least an hour of exercise, mealtimes at the table, and an hour or two of screen time when there’s time for it.
  • Take an evening walk as a family after dinner.
  • Get a pass to a public pool.
  • Sign up for recreational sports through various local organizations.
  • Join your local YMCA.

Screen time recommendations from the experts

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends avoiding digital media – except for video chatting – for toddlers younger than 18 to 24 months. And limit screen time to one hour a day for children ages 2 to 5.

The American Heart Association recommends children older than 5 only use screens for two hours a day.

Other screen time tips from the AAP include:

  • Set limits and encourage playtime.
  • Monitor and engage with your children when they’re using screens.
  • Limit your own media use and model good behavior online.
  • Create tech-free zones in your home and when you’re out.
  • Avoid using technology as a way to calm and quiet kids.
  • Research apps for kids.
  • Talk to teens about privacy, online predators and sexting.