Dr. Krystal Richardson, ND
When I was growing up, “screen time” was limited to TV and video games. Now, the term “screen time” includes so much more. Kids are learning at an astonishing age how to use these devices and often are much better and faster learners than their parents at navigating through the content. Just think of your four-year-old niece who can use your iPhone better than you can. Due to the astronomical growth in the use of these devices, the recommendations for the amount of time spent in front of a screen has been revised.
The average amount of time children are spending in front of a screen is seven hours a day (AAP). This includes time spent in front of the TV, on the computer, on a phone, or on any other electronic device. That is the number of hours most of us spend at our full-time job (minus our lunch hour). That is a devastating number! When parents and doctors hear that kids are spending enough time in front of a screen to qualify it as a full-time job, it is easier to understand why there is such an epidemic of obesity in our country.
There are both short term and long term detriments that come with too much screen time. There are links between excessive screen time and attention problems, sleep disorders, eating disorders, and increases in risky behavior, like alcohol and tobacco use.1 These risks are higher when screen time is not geared towards education and learning.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children ages 3-18 should limit screen time to two hours a day. It is recommended that children under the age of 2 avoid any entertainment media (like TV). It is so important to their brain development to be spending most of their time interacting with parents and siblings and participating in human interaction.1 Infants and young children need to participate in modeling behaviors and learn best through serve and return (mimicking the behavior they observe). This is how children learn social behavior and appropriate responses to social stimuli. In addition, to the recommendation of screen time being limited to two hours a day, it is also recommended that content be limited to high quality and educational material.
A recent study titled Five days at outdoor education camp without screens improves skills with nonverbal emotion cues showcased just another reason why limiting screen time is important. In this study preteens spent five days in a nature camp without access to screens and then participated in tests that had them infer emotional states from photographs of facial expressions. There results were compared to a control of similar school aged children who had no limit in screen time. Those kids who were “unplugged” and spent time in nature where better able to identify emotional states from the pictures. The conclusion was that kids who spend time away from screen-based media and digital communication tools are better at understanding nonverbal emotional cues.2 We all can imaging how this would be beneficial to their future success as adults.
Other activities that promote brain development is using imagination, creating games or pretending, playing outdoors, reading, and building. A step that promotes brain development even further is children participating in these activities with parents or older siblings/friends. There is no substitute to children having good role models and having an active and engaging relationship with a parent or guardian.
In a world full of screens, limiting time in front of one to less than two hours a day is a challenge. However, it is becoming more evident that cutting screen time down can improve not only social skills, but also help prevent detrimental health conditions like obesity, attention disorders, and sleep disorders. So perhaps the best prescription for a child with any of these conditions would be one that includes time spent outdoors playing and discovering nature.
Dr. Krystal Richardson is a naturopathic doctor who is an expert in integrative medicine. She is passionate about family medicine and enjoys working with all ages. She believes in creating a relationship with her patients that focuses on a partnership where patient and doctor can work together towards achievable goals.
While pursuing a medical degree at Bastyr University, Dr. Richardson pursued advanced training and education in women’s health, pediatrics, cardiovascular wellness and diabetes care. Dr. Richardson’s greatest joy comes from working with the pediatric population and encouraging healthy habits early, but also believes that achieving a better place of health is possible at any age.
Dr. Richardson has been used as an expert for care.com and has had articles published in the Naturopathic Doctor News & Review. In addition to writing she enjoys being an active member of her community and has participated in many fundraising and community events.
American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). ”Media and Children.” Web. 12 Oct. 2015.
Uhls, Yalda T., et al. “Five Days at Outdoor Education Camp without Screens Improves Preteen Skills with Nonverbal Emotion Cues.” Computers in Human Behavior 39 (2014): 387-92.