Children and screen time

Video games, iPads and computer time are a part of daily life for most kids. But do you know what limits to set to keep technology from having a negative impact on your children?

It’s difficult to know because cell phones, apps, and games are everywhere for this generation. Pediatricians at Dell Children’s Medical Center are giving some guidelines to parents so they can manage all that digital media use.

Children born today won’t know what life is like without video games. Parents like Daniel Givens don’t see an issue with that when it comes to his son Tobias.

“Whenever (Tobias) gets home from school his wind down time is going to play Minecraft. We give him about an hour and then it’s on to homework and regular family stuff,” Daniel says.

Daniel says he often plays the games together with Tobias. That’s something that Dr. Stephen Pont with Dell Children’s Medical Center says is vital.

“Don't outsource your parenting to that digital device. Be an active partner. Play the games. See what it’s like. Enjoy that experience with your child. The interaction is what's so important,” Dr. Pont says.

Dr. Pont says playing video games with your children allows parents to screen the content.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends parents set limits on play time. Two hours of screen time a day for children over the age of two is recommended. But that needs to be managed family by family.

The AAP also recommends parents become involved in who their children are playing online with.

“As parents it’s really important for us to be very involved and active parents in our kids’ lives. The sooner we start that the easier it is to maintain it. And certainly in the teenage years, even if our kids are acting like they don't wasn't us to be involved in their lives, we have the responsibility to still be engaged,” Dr. Pont says.

Children also learn what is important by watching their parents. So if you are limiting their media use, Dr. Pont recommends doing so for your own devices as well. Teach them that non-screen time, like outdoor and family time, is also important.

You can also make sure the games they play have educational value.

Dr. Pont says, “When kids are younger we really want to think about what we’re exposing them to. Their young minds are developing so quickly and some of things that are appropriate for adults to engage in are not appropriate for young kids.”

A recent poll by the Pew Research Center shows almost 75% of 13 to 17-year-olds have smartphones. 24% admit to using them constantly.

Dr. Pont says phones should not be charged in bedrooms and you shouldn’t allow children to play before bed. That’s because the blue light from the screen can affect melatonin levels and sleep.

“We see the kids who get worse sleep are at much greater risk for poor academic performance and are at a greater risk for obesity. So there are a lot of things that could lead into if the kids are going to bed with those devices,” Dr. Pont says.

Daniel is doing his best to follow Dr. Pont’s advice. He says he will continue to limit his son’s screen time but admits that depending on the day, Tobias might get a pass.

“That's not to say that he hasn't had a lazy Saturday morning and he hasn't spent the entire Saturday from breakfast to lunch playing mine craft. It's not something we do on a regular basis and that's what's right for us,” Daniel says.

The guidelines by the American Academy of Pediatrics were determined pre-iPad and will soon be revised.

You can see how apps are rated here.