Skip to main content

Your Kids and Screens: Too Much of a Good Thing?

Every day we are surrounded by smartphones, televisions, computers, and countless other types of digital media. These devices have become an integral part of our busy, daily lives and help us stay connected with loved ones. But is there such a thing as too much technology?

Researchers say yes, especially for our children. While technology can enhance learning when used sparingly, using it too often can interfere with important parts of our children’s lives. “Children need a diverse menu of online and offline experiences, including the chance to let their minds wander. Boredom is the space in which creativity and imagination happen,” says Dr. Michael Rich, Pediatrician and Associate Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says too much screen time puts children at risk of problems such as obesity, trouble sleeping, difficulty in forming relationships, depression, risky behaviors, and cyberbullying. For example, teenagers who watch more than 5 hours of TV per day are 5 times more likely to be overweight than teens who watch 0 to 2 hours!

Below are suggestions from the AAP on how to use technology with your kids in a healthy way!

  • For children under two years old, unstructured playtime and human interaction are always preferred over screen time. The opportunity to think creatively, problem-solve, and develop reasoning and motor skills is more valuable for the developing brain than passive media intake.
  • Limit entertainment screen time to less than one or two hours per day.
  • Screens should be kept out of kids' bedrooms. Put in place a "media curfew" at meals and bedtime, putting all devices away or plugging them into a charging station for the night.
  • Take an active role in your children's screen time by watching with them and helping them think about what they are seeing and doing. Look for media choices that are educational or teach good values -- such as empathy, kindness, and friendship.
  • The Internet can be a wonderful place for learning, but it also is a place where kids can run into trouble. Keep the computer in a public part of your home so you can check on what your kids are doing online and how much time they are spending there.
  • Be firm about restricting content that is not age-appropriate: sex, drugs, violence, etc. Movie and TV ratings exist for a reason; online movie reviews can help parents stick to their rules.
  • Make sure kids of all ages know that it is not appropriate or smart to send or receive pictures of people without clothing, no matter who they are messaging.
  • Consider creating your own profile on popular sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram; “friend” or “follow” your teens to monitor their online activities. Pre-teens should not have accounts on these sites. If you have younger children, you can create an account for them on sites that are specifically designed for others their age.
  • Discuss with your children that every place they go on the Internet may be "remembered," and comments they make will stay there indefinitely. They should not take actions online that they would not want to be on the record for a very long time.
  • Talk to them about being good "digital citizens," and discuss the serious consequences of online bullying. If your child is the victim of cyberbullying, it is important to take action with the other parents and the school if appropriate. Attend to children's and teens' mental health needs promptly if they are being bullied online and consider separating them from the social media platforms where bullying occurs.

Visit HealthyChildren.org/MediaUsePlan to create a personalized Family Media Use Plan that works within your family's values and busy lifestyles. This interactive tool from the AAP can help calculate how much time each member of your family spends using screens and provides AAP recommendations for a multitude of ways to improve how and when screens are used in your home!