Healthy Children - June 2019

Screen Time

“Screen time” - it’s a buzz term you might have heard before. But what exactly is it? And why does it matter for children’s health? Read on for the answers to these questions and more!

The term “screen time” means time spent watching television or movies, playing video games, surfing the internet and so on. It includes any time viewing media on a cell phone, tablet, computer, television, movie screen, and other devices. These days, children are spending a lot of time in front of screens. Unfortunately, too much screen time is bad for kids’ health and development.

One reason to limit screen time is that it encourages kids to sit still. Kids are meant to be active! Physical activity helps kids to be more fit, grow strong muscles and bones, be at a healthy weight, and have a lower chance of developing health conditions like heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes. When children have more screen time in early care and education, they are less active.

There are other reasons to watch out for screen time. Too much screen time is linked with slower learning and development of skills, poorer sleep, and worse social and emotional health. When children are in front of screens, they are not playing, exploring, actively learning, or interacting with other children and adults.

Yet another reason to be aware of screen time is advertising. In the United States, young people see up to 30,000 television advertisements every year, and a lot of those ads are for unhealthy foods and drinks. Advertisements are also online, showing up in videos and near web content. The more of these types of ads children see, the more likely they are to become obese. When kids have obesity, they are at higher risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, asthma, anxiety, depression, low self-esteem and more.

So, how much screen time is TOO MUCH? Great question!

  • For children two years of age and younger, no screen time is best (except for video-calling with relatives).
  • Children ages two to five should get no more than one-hour total per day (at early care and education and at home combined).

When kids do have screen time, the content should be high-quality, educational, and without any advertising. An adult should also watch with them, to help kids understand and apply what they are seeing.

What parents can do

  • Set time limits on screen time at home (remember, your kids may be getting screen time outside of the home, too).
  • Create “screen-free” spaces or times.
    • Try being “screen-free” in the bedrooms, and during meals and family time.
    • To help children sleep well, make sure screens are off at least one hour before bedtime.
  • Turn screens off when they are not being used.
  • Do not use screen time to reward good behavior or punish bad behavior.
  • Use the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Media Plan and Calculator tools to plan for screen time at home - both are available for free online!
  • Ask your early care and education provider to limit screen time.

What early care and education settings can do

  • Set limits on screen time to match recommendations (remember, kids, are probably getting screen time at home, too).
  • Use the Go NAPSACC Screen Time Self-Assessment to figure out your strengths, where you have room for growth, and to make an action plan to improve!
  • The Illinois Public Health Institute (IPHI) administers Go NAPSACC in partnership with the Illinois Department of Public Health. Contact your local Child Care Resource and Referral agency, University of Illinois Extension office or IPHI at (312) 786-5362 to see if free technical assistance is available near you.