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Bright Futures

Screen Time Rules During COVID-19

May 08, 2020, Dr. Gary Kirkilas
Screen Time Rules During COVID-19

Pediatricians have always urged parents to monitor their children’s screen time and with good reason. Studies consistently show that excessive screen time places children at risk for decreased language development. Traditionally, the recommendations have been clear: no screen time prior to the age of 2, only one hour of screen time per day for children ages 3 to 10 and only two hours of screen time per day for children ages 11 to 13.  

Enter the COVID-19 pandemic.

Suddenly, our children are spending most of their days indoors and in front of screens. With pools and parks closed, the usual 6-hour school day is being completed in front of a screen. With extracurricular activities suspended, parents have a new challenge in monitoring and enforcing screen time for their children.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has recently offered some general guidance on this issue. First, parents need to cut themselves a little slack. The world has changed (for the time being) and those previous recommendations may not be feasible, especially with online school now the norm. This doesn’t mean throw caution to the wind, but instead, it means parents are recommended to create a daily plan which structures exactly how much and when screen time will be accessible. For example, a typical schedule might include regular screen-free activities from 10-12pm and 1-3pm. Screen-free activities could be creating art, listening to music, cooking or taking a walk. With the loss of our pre-COVID-19 daily structure, creating a new plan is vital to prevent overconsumption of media. You can create your own media plan here: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/media/Pages/default.aspx

While the AAP does not give a new number of recommended hours of screen time, they instead focus more on quality and content of screen time. Parents should remember quality matters because not all screen content is of equal value. For preschoolers, PBS Kids (https://www.pbs.org/parents) is a great source of educational entertainment. For school age children, Common Sense Media (https://www.commonsensemedia.org/blog/what-to-watch-read-and-play-while-your-kids-are-stuck-indoors) gives parents a review of exactly what their children will encounter in pop culture TV/movies so they can determine if it’s appropriate.

With all those hours of screen time, let’s not forget children still need about 60 minutes of exercise per day. Indoor exercise and yoga videos for kids are a great way to burn up some energy. Alternatively, most outdoor play can be done if social distancing is observed and only same household children are playing together. Try to schedule this exercise as a regular part of the day. For example, a family walk around the block after lunch and/or after dinner can be a great addition to a schedule.

Lastly, make screen time a family affair. This will allow you to both monitor the content and still engage as a family. This can be better than having each family member tucked away in different parts of the home, glued to a device. Find a movie or show everyone can enjoy together and then discuss the movie/show afterwards.

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