How Much Screen Time is Really Okay for Adolescents

It’s summer break and kids have a lot of extra time on their hands.

Teenagers With Mobile Phone

With studies linking excessive screen time to obesity, depression and attention deficit issues, it is increasingly important for parents to help their teens spend their free time wisely. Breaks from the normal routine are expected this time of year, but it is still crucial for parents to keep their guard up. Technology, in and of itself, is not a bad thing. There are amazing educational and health benefits to the devices to which we have access. However, anything, when misused or overused can be harmful.

As surprising as it might be to many parents, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends children ages 12-18 not have more than two hours of screen time per day. This includes non-violent television, handheld devices, computers and video games. The guidelines further state that video game use should make up no more than 30 minutes of the total screen time in a day. According to one recent article, teens spend an average of seven hours a day and more than 50 hours a week in front of a TV, computer or phone screen!

The AAP warns parents “children with high levels of screen time also have more stress, putting them at risk not only for obesity but for a number of other conditions such as diabetes, mood disorders and asthma.” One study from the National Institute of Health revealed that media portrayals of body image and the “perfect” life led to irrational expectations for adolescents for both themselves and others. This resulted in a disruption to their “normal” social and psychological development, leading to depression.

As mentioned above, mood disorders can often be linked to too much time in front of a screen. In addition, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation study entitled Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8-to 18-year-olds, teens that spend more time interacting with media have lower grades and spend less time reading than their peers.

Recently, links have been discovered between social media and anxiety, especially among adolescents and young adults. Even if social media or an abundance of screen time is not the direct cause of anxiety, it can definitely make it worse. To go a step further, anxiety is linked to depression, the most common mental health disorder among teens and adults in the United States.

Something else to remember is time spent in front of a screen takes away from time spent engaging in active, creative and social activities. All of these areas are crucial to the psychological development of an individual. Online interactions and video games cannot meet the needs satisfied by real life experiences.

So, what is right for your teen? How do you set boundaries and keep them? Here are a few tips to help limit screen time and not lose your sanity.

  • Educate Yourself – Set aside some time to research the issue further. Te more you learn, the better decision you will be able to make for your family. aap.org is a great place to start.
  • Lead by example – As you make changes for your kids, consider making changes for yourself as well. People, especially children, learn by watching others. Make it a point to follow your own rules for your teen when it comes to screen time for entertainment purposes.
  • Keep tech out of the bedroom – This is a huge one. Do not put a TV or video game console in any bedroom. Keep cell phones and tablets charging elsewhere. Sleep deprivation is one of the biggest concerns associated with too much screen time and using electronics right before bed can cause major disruptions to ones sleep cycle.
  • Activate parent controls on handheld devices – Most cell phone carriers have parental controls available. For instance, you can set your teen’s phone to automatically stop sending a receiving text messages at a certain time. Some tablets also allow parents to set a daily time limit. Once the daily limit is reached, the device powers down. Other controls include blocking access to violent and pornographic material. Simply put, use the tools available to you. They are there for a reason.
  • Provide alternate activities – If you are a parent of teens, then you have undoubtedly heard, “I’m bored,” far more than you care to remember. When you decrease your teen’s screen time, it is helpful to provide other ways for them to occupy their time. Register them for a team sport. Let them try a new activity or class (e.g. art, martial arts, dance). Give them household responsibilities.
  • Start young – No need to wait until you have a teen glued to his or her phone 24/7. If you have younger children, start setting boundaries now. Review the guidelines for infants, toddlers and elementary-aged children as they may differ from those for teenagers.

“Thirty years ago, the federal government ruled that young children are psychologically defenseless against advertising. Now, kids see 5,000 to 10,000 food ads per year, most of them for junk food and fast food,” said Dr. Strasburger, MD, FAAP, a member of the AAP Council on Communications and Media. These advertisements glamorize the products without revealing the negative impact of their use or consumption. One can only imagine the barrage of possibly harmful messages our teens are exposed to through extended time spent on social media, online and in front of a television.

Every child is different and ultimately each parent must decide what is best for his or her family. When setting new boundaries gets difficult, trust your gut. Study after study indicates that the health of our nation’s children is at stake. So, as parents, it’s more important than ever make protecting children more important than pleasing them.

 

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