Sep 1, 2014

Dr. Gellner: You've heard it before. Pediatricians recommend two hours or less of screen time daily. So why is that? That's what we're going to discuss today. I'm Dr. Cindy Gellner for The Scope.

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Dr. Gellner: Two hours or less of screen time a day. It doesn't seem like a whole lot. But when you consider your child is going to be in school or outside playing, things like that, two hours actually is a big chunk of time. Two hours or less of screen time daily doesn't just include the television. It also includes computers, video games, Facebook, phones, anything that has a screen on it is considered screen time. The American Academy of Pediatrics also recommends that children under the age of two shouldn't have any TV at all, while children ages three to five should have less than an hour.

So those are the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines, but we know that's not going to be easy to do with everything that's out there. If your child is going to watch anything on a screen, whether it's a YouTube video, play a little video game like on a Leapster, or they're watching something like Sesame Street, make sure it's an educational program.

Not only is your child just absorbing information off of a screen, but they're sitting. They're not moving. Most kids, if they're in front of the television, they're also going to be more likely to snack. That's going to lead to increased weight. You've got more calories going in, less calories going out, the scale's going to go higher.

Too much TV has also been linked to lower reading scores and attention problems. Kids are so used to getting that immediate feedback that if something is not giving them immediate sensory input, they don't know what to do. A book doesn't give feedback to you. You're reading it, you're absorbing information, but it doesn't give feedback so kids are less likely to read because they're going to want to immediate feedback from the TV. Attention problems, again, kids get immediate feedback. That's how their brains get wired is they want that immediate stimulus, that immediate feedback, and if whatever they're doing doesn't provide that, they're not going to be interested. They're going to start having issues with not being able to settle down and look for things to self-stimulate instead.

How do you tame the TV, the computer, the iPod, anything like that? First thing is, know how much screen time your child is having. If it's more than two hours, figure out why. You can set some basic rules. No television before homework or chores are done. Absolutely you should not be watching television during meal time, so make sure there's no TV in the dining room and make sure there's no TV in the bedroom either for children.

You can negotiate rules with kids so that they can earn screen time if they want more than that, like to watch a particular movie or they want to play a particular game when they have a play date with another friend. You can have them bank up their screen time.

Don't just have the TV on as constant background. Choose specific shows that you want to watch. Some people also use a timer, so when the bell rings it's time to turn the screen off. Don't just put those guidelines out for your children. You should follow your own rules. Because your child will model your behavior, you want to set a good example with your own television viewing habits. Don't watch programs containing adult content when your child is in the room or nearby.

Put music on. Let the kids dance instead of having the television on. Do some other things. Get outside. Summer is not that much longer, so go to the playground. Go to the park. Go to the pool. Do fun things like that while you still have a chance.

Every time you turn on the TV you see a commercial, right? There's over 40,000 commercials a year that you're going to be exposed to. In 1999, advertisers spent over $13 billion on advertising. By the time you are 65, you will have seen about two million ads on TV. By the time a child is 18, they will have seen more than 200,000 violent acts on television. The number of programs with sexual content has doubled since 1998. Children who watch more than ten hours of television per week are less likely to do well in school. Those are just some statistics to get you thinking about why screen time is so important to limit.

So keep all those things in mind. Turn off the screen, get outside, be active, and just have fun being kids.

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