Monday, June 12, 2017

Parenting in the Screen Time Era

Traditionally, multiple health and child development establishments have been advising parents to avoid exposing their children to screens and media tools such as TV, video games, computer, video, smartphones and touchscreen tablets to name a few.

In October 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) updated its recommendation and guidelines for “Screen Time” use for children and adolescents. The revised AAP guidelines now focus on support and guidance for parents about how to use technology responsibly with children of all ages.

The new AAP research guidelines recommend:

*No screen time for children from zero to eighteen months. An exception for the recommendation may be video conversations with grandparents and family.

*Starting from eighteen months to two years parents willing to introduce digital technology may introduce well selected high-quality programming and apps as an interactive family activity.

*For children between ages two to five years old, an hour daily maximum is recommended. For children five and above maximum of two hours a day screen time is recommended.

Being a parent of two young children and an Educational Technology educator, I have been wondering about a few questions for some time. These questions are: What actually is screen time? What impact does it have on the health of children? How much is too much screen time? Finally, what is the best approach to deal with screen time?

What is screen time ?
If you are a parent or working with children in any capacity, research readings by Common Sense Media provide very helpful guidelines for decoding the mysterious world of technology jargon. The research categorises screen time into:

*Passive Consumption
*Interactive Consumption
*Communication ​
*Content Creation

In Passive Consumption activities, children typically watch TV, read an e-book or listen to music without doing much mental activity and just focusing on consuming the media available to them. On the other hand, with Content Creation activities, children are involved creatively and critically to develop media content such as making digital art, creating an iMovie, composing their original music with Garage Band or making interactive charts with Numbers etc.

Communication activities lead us to hugely popular and ever-growing social media networks, instant messaging, video chats and even emails. While Interactive Consumption activities include playing video games and surfing the internet to access information.

What impact does it have on the health of children?
Keeping in tune with natural parenting instincts, the first question that comes to my mind is how does use or overuse of media tools impact the health and brain development of my children? Although the research studies in this area remain limited, some research studies indicate significant increase in obesity with heavy media use in young children. This increase of BMI index might be reflected due to children’s prolonged sitting, reduced activity, eating while watching TV where one tends to eat more and ignore satiety clues given by body system to stop eating or simply getting exposed to mainly junk food and high calorie foods with TV advertisement.

Various other studies have also linked longer duration of media exposure to interruption in sleep cycle of children. Children using a longer period of media may sleep less than age appropriate recommendation resulting in shorter attention span and physical tiredness.

A longer duration of media exposure may also cut down or reduce family bonding time, communication and interaction leading to delay in language, social/ emotional and cognitive development.

On the other hand, there are certain studies providing evidence that “children [preschoolers in this specific research] have the ability to transfer knowledge from screens to the real world, including early literacy and math, and positive social and emotional skills and behaviours. “ One more study quotes, "There is conclusive evidence that digital equipment, tools and resources can, where effectively used, raise the speed and depth of learning in science and mathematics for primary and secondary age learners.”

How much is too much screen time?
Apart from the guidelines recommended by the AAP, there is no fixed answer to figure out the perfect screen time for each child. Again, we as parents need to look at the overall aspect of the media content, the context in which the child is using the media and last but not the least the child as an individual. When dealing with screen time issues, asking these questions to yourself helps to crystallize your thinking and helps you to evaluate your family's needs:

*Is my child physically healthy and sleeping enough?
*Is my child connecting socially with family and friends (in any form)?
*Is my child engaged with and achieving in school?
*Is my child pursuing interests and hobbies (in any form)?
*Is my child having fun and learning in their use of digital media?

If answers to all these questions are yes then you won't need to worry about screen time. If it is not, then you might need to reflect on media usage for your family.

Finally, What is the best approach to deal with screen time ?
It helps tremendously to realise and accept that media is everywhere. It is a way of life and an essential 21st century life skill. We as parents and educators must help our children educate themselves about safe and responsible use of technology rather than restricting its use completely.

Each family is unique and might need a best suited family media plan. This tool helps families decide the suitable screen time according to their needs. Here are a few practical tried and tested tips for parents and educators alike:

*Be the Role Model: Children learn by observation and seventy percent of today’s children feel their parents are on their screens too much. So, family time should be for connecting with your own children and not your devices. Be an active, involved, alert and mindful decision maker for your children and the media content used by them.

*Prioritize the activities: As a family, discuss and list down all the non-negotiable activities vs. desirable activities. Fill a daily calendar with non-negotiable activities such as school time, meal times, bedtimes, outdoor play time, extra curricular activities and homework time first. Then you can allocate a certain amount of screen time for free time, keeping in the recommended guidelines by AAP.

*Teach technology etiquette: Technology etiquette must always be focused on respect, human interaction and courtesy. Simple suggestions such as while with family members, talk to the person sitting next to you and not to the person on the other side of the screen. Not taking their tablets during outdoor activity time go a long way.

*Set firm and practical media rules: Keep computers and laptops out of children’s bedroom and keep them in a family area. Being in an open family environment discourages the children to make irresponsible choices of media use and at the same time allows you to monitor content.

*Ask for help: Encourage use of age appropriate use of media. Nonprofit organizations such as Common Sense Media and thinkuknow provide multiple resources for parents and educators. Check with your child's school if they are having regular Digital Citizenship lessons. If not, insist on these lessons or even better start an initiative in your own community. Also, if you wish, multiple family oriented media filters and apps are available to monitor content and time a device is connected to the internet.

In a nutshell, treat screen time as a way to encourage age-appropriate critical thinking and digital literacy to children. These are essential 21st century life skills which require open family communication and implementation of consistent rules about media use.

Research Credits
AAP Recommendations for Children’s Media Use
Common Sense Media

Apple Educational Trainer
Apple Distinguished Educator
Google Certified Innovator
Common Sense Certified Educator


  1. Wonderul, informative article Mayuri!

  2. An exception for the recommendation may be video conversations with grandparents and family.