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The Impact of Screen Time on School-Aged Children

Too much screen time?
Child Development, Elementary School, Preschool, Rippowam Cisqua School

The Impact of Screen Time on School-Aged Children

When kids spend too much time on a screen, research shows an adverse impact on three identified areas: thinking and learning, feelings and behavior and, health and well-being.  Excessive screen time has been linked directly to sleep deprivation, hyperactivity, insensitivity, aggression, developmental delays, lack of motivation and creativity and, anxiety. 

Screen time used to be limited to the television, a medium that was much easier to regulate. In addition to tv, today’s households also have desktop computers, laptops, tablets, and smartphones. 97% of children have used a mobile device, many of whom started using them before the age of one. In fact, by age three, many children can use a mobile device and find content on their own – thanks to Google and YouTube. In today’s world, children cannot be “too young” for parents to be thinking about the impact of screen usage. 

How much is too much?

For preschool and elementary aged children, it’s important to note that in the research, screen time refers to the amount of time spent viewing a screen. It does not take into account the content playing on the screen, whether it be Sesame Street, Baby Sign Language, or video games.

According to The American Academy of Pediatrics, here are the developmentally appropriate guidelines for screen time for pre-schoolers: 

  • Younger than 18 months: Avoid use of screen media other than video-chatting.
  • Age 18 to 24 months: Choose high-quality programming and watch it with your children to help them understand what they’re seeing.
  • Age 2 to 5 years: Limit screen use to one hour per day of high-quality programs and watch with them to help them understand the material and make real-world connections.

For children six and older, previous recommendations were up to two hours per day. Now that digital media has usurped the television set, and more and more research is coming out with respect to video game content and the impact on behavior, cognition and emotions, psychologists are rethinking the reality of their recommendations. 

Managing Screen Time

It’s important to note that not every child is the same. The American Academy of Pediatrics recognizes individuality when making screen plans for children. Parents are encouraged to factor in sleep, physical activity, and the development of healthy habits when policing screen time for older children. 

Children need predictability, downtime, consistency, and reliability. In general, it’s safe to assume that kids today need more sleep than they are likely getting and less screen time. They also need to learn to trust their environment to reduce anxiety and fear. This starts with you. Here are a few ideas to help manage sleep and screens.

  1. Spend more time as a family. Create a family schedule and review weekly, or even daily. Plan time away from the screens to eat meals together and get out of the house.
  2. Make downtime a priority. Create media-free times and zones. Turn all screens off at least thirty minutes before trying to sleep. Beds should be associated with sleep only so keep all screens out of children’s bedrooms as light stimulates wakefulness.
  3. Create a family media use plan. The American Academy of Pediatrics helps families customize a plan for each child’s screen time. Take a look at the video overview below and then complete the plan.

About the Author: Dr. Emily Gifford is the Lower Campus psychologist at Rippowam Cisqua School. She has over 15 years of experience helping children think independently and communicate confidently. At RCS, Emily provides the social-emotional support needed to thrive. Through workshops, educational talks, small group work, one-on-one interactions, and behavioral intervention, RCS families count on Emily’s expertise to support their child’s emotional wellness. Emily also has a private practice in Mount Kisco, New York where she works closely with pediatricians, psychiatrists, schools, camps, and individual families to build strong support systems for the children. Her clinical services include individual child/play therapy, adolescent therapy/problem-solving, life transitions/young adulthood, and parent consultation to helps kids get back on track.

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