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Healthy Kids: Creating a healthy media diet for kids

(Adobe Stock photo via Kelli Warner)

A recent study by Common Sense Media shows children between the ages of 8 and 18 spend an average of 4.5 - 6 hours a day in front of screens, including phones, tablets and laptops. All that screen time can impact everything from kids’ health to how prepared they are for school. The key for parents is to help kids find a balance between real life and digital life.

Setting screen time limits

As a mom of two boys, ages 10 and 11, Bobbie Willis pays close attention to how much time they spend with their devices. Her sons know that screen time is a privilege, earned after chores and homework are finished. Occasionally, she’s noticed a change in their behavior after their digital downtime.

“When they’ve been on their devices for a little while and they turn them off, they’re pretty grouchy,” Bobbie says. “And I don’t know what it is, maybe they just don’t like the transition out of the enchantment of being plugged in.”

Because prolonged use of being digitally connected has been shown to effect kids health, pediatrician Dr. Pilar Bradshaw with Eugene Pediatric Associates says it’s important for parents to help kids manage their media use.

“For example, there are studies to show that the number of hours that kids spend on social media directly correlates with their feelings of anxiety, poor self-esteem and depression,” says Dr. Bradshaw. “Screen time is not an easy thing for kids and parents to work out, but it’s important to talk about.”

Create a plan

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents create a media use plan, including curfews for all devices.

“I think it makes great sense for everybody to dock their phone when they come in the door and not use it during meal times, for sure. Don’t allow your child to have their phone in their bedrooms, because kids staying up late texting and bothering each other is terrible for their sleep,” Dr. Bradshaw says.

Bobbie and her husband have set limits for their sons when it comes to screen use, but she knows the issue will become more of a challenge as they get older and once she feels they are ready and responsible enough to have cell phones.

“On the one hand, I do want them to feel like they have ownership over what they’re doing, and on the other hand, I do want to supervise that,” Bonnie says.

“Kids have tremendous access to information,” says Dr. Bradshaw. “We need to teach them to use it wisely and not use it 24/7.”

The AAP identifies screen time as time spent using digital media for entertainment purposes. Other uses of media, such as online homework, don't count as screen time.

The AAP recommends:

Infants 18 months and younger: Babies are most vulnerable to screens and should not be exposed to any digital media.

Children 2-5 years: Screen time should be limited to one hour per day.

Kids 6 and older: Limit digital media. The Academy says the amount of daily screen time depends on the child and family, but children should prioritize productive time over entertainment time.

One universal recommendation for all ages is that no child or teenager should be in front of a screen an hour before bed and digital media should never replace healthy activities, particularly sleep, social interaction and physical activity.

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