What do you look forward to doing with your children this summer? Maybe your list includes playing outside, swimming, or going on a family vacation. What about managing your children’s screen time usage? That particular task is probably not high on any parent’s summer list of plans. While it may not be something we particularly enjoy, monitoring our children’s screen time has become a big part of parenting in today’s world. The summer season can be especially challenging since children generally have more free time and the lure of digital devices looms large. With a little savvy parenting, we can learn to help our children manage their screen time and preserve the fun of summer.

Why Limit Screen Time?

We’ve probably all heard reports from pediatricians and child development experts about some of the potentially negative consequences of too much screen time for children. Although research in this field is still relatively new, the findings do point to some concerning issues. Among very young children (babies and toddlers), exposure to more screen time is linked to worse developmental and cognitive outcomes.1 In addition, in this age range (prior to age 4–5), children cannot learn well from videos. In experiments, if researchers attempt to teach young children new words via videos or even live video chat, the children typically do not learn the words well. At this age, it is only with the help of an adult sitting next to them that the children are able to learn the new words.1 Thus, the idea of “educational” screen time at this young age is largely a myth. As children mature to 4 years old and beyond, however, some limited screen time can have educational benefits, especially if parents or caregivers watch alongside the child.1

Among older children, there are also some concerning findings regarding the overuse of screen media. Children who tend to utilize screen time more than the recommended 2 hours per day (according to the American Academy of Pediatrics2) tend to score lower on cognitive assessments.1 When excessive screen time is combined with a lack of sleep (which can also be linked to screen time), it has been associated with greater impulsivity among children.1 Of course, the bulk of this research is correlational, which means we cannot definitively determine if the screen time causes these results.

We do clearly see benefits from limiting screen time among children. Excessive screen time seems to replace other valuable activities in the offline world in which children can be engaged. Research shows that when parents monitor and/or limit children’s screen time, it is linked with better outcomes for children. Children with screen time limits tend to sleep better, do better in school, and have better social skills and physical well-being.3

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