It seems we see shocking headlines about screen time, and the negative effects electronic devices have on kids, on a weekly basis these days. As a parent, it can be frustrating and difficult to sift through the latest research and figure out a plan that works for your family. You may be shocked to hear that screen time isn’t all bad, in fact, it has a lot of surprising benefits, but the key is to manage your child’s screen time wisely.

Screen time usage today

To have a better idea of what we’re working with here, it helps to see the hard numbers pertaining to our kids’ daily screen time use and consumption. Keep in mind that these facts include the time, which is growing each year, that our children spend using computers and tablets at school.

A 2015 Pew Research Center study reports that 92 percent of 13 to 17-year olds go online daily, which isn’t too shocking, when we consider our own computer, tablet and smartphone usage.

Here’s where things get scary: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that children ages 8 to 10 spend an average of 6 hours per day in front of a screen, kids ages 11 to 14 spend an average of 9 hours per day in front of a screen, and youth ages 15 to 18 spend an average of 7.5 hours per day in front of a screen. Wow.

The case for raising kids low-tech

Considering the sheer number of hours per day our children spend in front of a screen, it’s no wonder that so many CEOs raise their children in low-tech environments. Both Bill Gates and Steve Jobs kept the technologies they were developing away from their children; Gates did not allow his children to have cell phones until they were 14 years old, and Jobs kept the iPad out of his children’s purview. Even at the beginning of the mobile tech age, both Jobs and Gates knew to limit their children’s exposure to tech at home, and it seems they were onto something.

Effects of screen time on kids

The effects of screen time on our kids is an especially difficult area to keep up with, as studies are continually releasing new findings. However, what we’re seeing from these studies is enough to make any parent take pause.

Let’s start with the fact that, among high-income countries, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports that the USA has the highest obesity rates for boys and girls — a growing trend so alarming that child obesity has been labeled as an epidemic. And while the child obesity epidemic can’t be blamed solely on electronic devices, screen time has typically been synonymous with “sit time”.

Early introduction to electronic devices, such as smartphones and tablets, is now being linked to speech delays in toddlers, reduced sleep and delayed sleep onset. Older children, including teenagers, are also feeling the negative effects of screen time, with poor sleep quality and higher incidences depression (related to social media use in teens).

Screen time guidelines

It’s important to note that most of the negative effects of screen time on children are related to excessive use of electronic devices on a daily basis. For this reason, it’s helpful to know expert’s recommendations for screen time use, which were updated by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) last year. The AAP makes the following recommendations for screen time:

  • For children under 18 months old, screen time should be limited to video chatting

  • Children 18-24 months should only be exposed to high-quality media, with parents watching alongside to help them understand and engage with what they’re watching

  • Children 2-5 years old should be limited to 1 hour per day of high-quality programming; again, parents should watch along with them to help them make real world connections

  • Children 6 years and older should have established and consistent limits on the time spent using media, with parents ensuring that digital media doesn’t take the place of sleep, physical activity or real-life personal interactions

Managing screen time at home

While the AAP’s recommendations sound great, and provide an excellent starting point, many of you may be wondering how to put those guidelines in place at home. The first, and most important, thing you need to do is to model behavior by limiting your own screen time to a maximum of 2 hours per day — practice what you preach, parents!

Keep a record of how much time your children are spending in front of a screen, and how much time they’re spending outdoors or engaged in some type of physical activity; make sure that both are equally balanced, or require your children to “earn” screen time equal to their amount of physical activity each day.

Treat screen time as a privilege in your home, and figure out a system to reward your kids with screen time. Most importantly, remove electronic media from your children’s bedrooms at night, to enforce screen time limits and encourage a calming bedtime routine.

Still stumped on screen time? Find more information about managing your family’s digital use in Zift’s Parent Portal, which is full of parenting resources for the digital age.