Screen time—the amount of time per day we spend looking at our televisions, laptops, cell phones, and other devices—is big part of our every-day life in the United States. As screens have become more readily accessible, they have become integrated into our daily routine. If you’re anything like me, the end of a long day may consist of relaxing with some mindless TV, scrolling through Facebook on a smartphone, and checking some emails on the computer – that’s three screens at once! We are more connected than ever before, for better or for worse. As technology has become more accessible to adults it has also become more accessible to children. Television and computers have been integrated into daycare settings and schools. I personally know toddlers who know their way around an iPad better than I do! With the rapidly increasing availability of television, computers, and tablets for our children, it makes one wonder: should we be worried about screen time in children?
First, it appears that as accessibility of screens has increased, so has their use. In a study published in JAMA Pediatrics in 2019, researchers compared screen time in children younger than 6 years old between the years 1997 and 2014. The study found that there has been a significant increase in screen time in children ages 0 to 2, who went from 1.32 hours of screen time per day in 1997 to 3.05 hours per day in 2014. Most of this “screen time” is spent watching television, but mobile devices contribute to the increase. In children ages 3 to 5, there was not a significant difference in the amount of screen time spent, but there was an 80% increase in television time. These results show that children are watching more television, and children ages 0 to 2 are exposed to more screens than ever before. But does “more screen time” mean anything?
It turns out that more screen time likely has a negative impact on the growth and development of our children. Another study, which was also published in JAMA Pediatrics this year, looked at over 2000 children at ages 24, 36, and 60 months and analyzed how screen time affected their development, by looking at developmental milestones in communication, gross motor skills, fine motor skills, problem solving, and social skills. The study found that, “children with higher levels of screen time exhibit poorer performance on developmental screening tests, on average, and across all study waves.” These developmental tasks set the groundwork for success in school, interacting with other children, and navigating the world around us. That being said, cutting down on screen time is not an easy task in a time when screens are so integrated into our daily living.
It may feel daunting to cut down on screen time in a world where television, tablets, and smartphones are used constantly throughout the day. Here are a few recommendations:
Everything is okay in moderation. Screens can be integrated into schools for learning and at home for fun. They provide a quiet, nondisruptive activity for kids in today’s chaotic world. However, while cutting down on screen time can be difficult, the most recent data suggests that it is a worthwhile endeavor for our little ones!