How much screen time is too much for kids?

Prior research has established a link between mental health problems in children and teens, such as anxiety and depression, and excessive “screen time,” the time spent using electronic gadgets, including cell phones, tablets, computers, electronic games and television. Thus far, there hasn’t been agreement on how much usage per day is too much.

Now a new study published in Preventive Medicine Reports suggests that screen time of more than only an hour a day is associated with lowered psychological well being. Researchers found that high users showed “less curiosity, lower self-control, more distractibility, more difficulty making friends, less emotional stability, being more difficult to care for, and inability to finish tasks.”

Conversely, low device users who engage in non-screen activities, such as sports, reading print material and socializing in-person with friends, tended to be happier than high users. The study also found that correlations between well-being measures and screen time were more pronounced in adolescents than in younger children.

So how much screen time is too much? Jean Twenge, the study’s lead author, concludes: “It seems clear from most of the research that three hours a day or more, especially four or five, is linked to unhappiness and depression.”

Helping to curb your child’s use of electronics can be a challenge. But here are some tips:

  • Set a good example. Don’t overuse gadgets yourself.
  • Watch your child’s behavior for warning signs of too much screen time: irritability, moodiness, anxiety, social isolation.
  • Limit usage time. Restrict screen time to certain times of the day. Set rules and stick to them.
  • Use apps and programs that shut off computers, tablets, and smartphones after a set amount of time.
  • Keep electronic devices out of children’s bedrooms.
  • Play with your children. Encourage them to engage in non-screen activities, like books, board games, art work, playing outside, etc.
  • Discourage kids from multitasking with devices. This will prevent them from losing the capacity to focus on one thing at a time.

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