HEALTH NEWS

Parents Spend Lots of Time Looking at Online Media but Still Worry About Kids’ Screen Time

Written by Elizabeth Pratt on December 9, 2016

childrens screen time

Parents may think they’re being good role models for their kids when it comes to the amount of time they spend on electronic devices.

However, a recent study by an advocacy group has found that parents spend more than nine hours a day on “screen media” like tablets and smart phones.

The study by Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization focused on children’s use of media, surveyed 1,786 parents in the United States, over a one-year period, who had children aged 8 to 18.

About 78 percent of the parents surveyed believe they are being good role models for their children, despite spending more than 7 hours a day on personal screen media themselves.

“These findings are fascinating because parents are using media for entertainment just as much as their kids, yet they express concerns about their kids’ media use,” said James P. Steyer, founder and chief executive officer of Common Sense Media, in a press release. “Media can add a lot of value to relationships, education, and development, and parents clearly see the benefits, but if they are concerned about too much media in their kids’ lives, it might be time to reassess their own behavior so that they can truly set the example they want for their kids.”

Read more: Violent video games and children »

Still concerned about the kids

Although they might be prolific users of screen media, parents still worry about the impact such technologies are having on their children.

Dr. Jenny Radesky, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Michigan C. S. Mott Children's Hospital, says such concerns are valid.

“Excessive digital media use is linked to sleep problems, obesity, academic delays, and language delays in young children; and inappropriate or violent media content is associated with executive functioning deficits and behavioral issues,” Radesky told Healthline.

The study found 34 percent of parents were concerned about the impact screen media was having on their children’s sleeping patterns. Dr. Radesky says using electronic devices too close to bedtime can make it harder for children (and adults) to sleep.

“The blue light emitted from screens can inhibit our endogenous melatonin, the brain hormone which helps establish sleep rhythms, and the exciting content from TV, videos, or social media can keep our brains aroused. Many studies show associations between evening digital media use and problems falling asleep,” she said.

Read more: Most 2-year-olds use mobile devices »

Recommendations for parents

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has developed recommendations for children’s media use.

The guidelines suggest that children younger than 18 months should avoid screen media other than video chatting.

Children aged 2 to 5 should be limited to one hour of screen time a day.

Children over 6 years of age should have consistent limits placed on the amount of screen media they use.

The AAP suggests that parents should ensure screen media use never takes the places of “adequate sleep, physical activity, and other behaviors essential to health.”

Read more: Screen time hurts more than kids’ eyes »

Addicted to media

The overwhelming majority of parents surveyed have positive views of the role of technology in their child’s development, education, and learning outcomes, but more than half are concerned their children will become addicted to technology.

Radesky says it is possible for children to develop problematic media use habits. Parents should take note if a child’s media use is impacting other areas of their life.

“I would worry if children are not interested in other nonscreen activities, want to take media everywhere they go, are starting to have functional problems (e.g., trouble socializing, behavior issues, refusing to do homework) related to their excessive screen use, and need media to calm themselves down, rather than using other approaches,” she said.

Radesky suggests families should make a plan for media use within the home, specifying what type and how much screen time is acceptable.

She suggests using technology together as a family, using electronic devices to be creative as well as to consume, and to never use technology as a way to calm a child down.

“Children are great mimics, which is why it is so important that parents introduce real boundaries and balance early on,” said Steyer. “Media will always be a part of life, and every family is different, but in general, we recommend that parents set rules and clear plans so that kids understand what is appropriate.”

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