Under the Umbrella: “Screen Time” for Kids

How many hours of TV does your child watch each day? What about video games, computer time, and tablet use? When you add it up, your child may be spending a good amount of their day in front of a screen. Many parents and caregivers are giving more consideration to how screen time impacts their child(ren).
Under the Umbrella: "Screen Time" for KidsDo you know what role technology played in your child’s life before they came to your home? Your child may have spent a lot of time in front of a TV or computer screen, or she may not have had much access to technology. Depending on their experience, screen time may be familiar and comforting, or a new novelty. Some children who are in foster care or who were adopted would benefit from less screen time and more in-person interactions. Other children may need extra screen time to develop certain skills and practice social interactions in a less intimidating format. One thing that is clear is that technology is now ingrained in all our lives. What is not clear is to what extent children should spend using technology.
In recent years, the recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) was that children under the age of two should have little to no screen time, and children over age two should be limited to two hours per day. This suggestion was based on research, which indicated that screen time for young children could negatively affect brain development. It goes without surprise that many families found this advice challenging – if not impossible – to follow. Recently, the AAP has relaxed these guidelines to help inform parents on how to best incorporate screen time into their families’ lives. Listed below are the new recommendations from the AAP when it comes to screen time for children. These suggestions apply to all families, including those formed through foster care and adoption.
Asian girl and her dad
  • Media is just another environment. Children do the same things they have always done, only virtually. Like any environment, media can have positive and negative effects.
  • Parenting has not changed. The same parenting rules apply to your children’s real and virtual environments. Play with them. Set limits; kids need and expect them. Teach kindness. Be involved. Know their friends and where they are going with them.
  • Role modeling is critical. Limit your own media use, and model online etiquette. Attentive parenting requires face time away from screens.
  • We learn from each other. Neuroscience research shows that very young children learn best via two-way communication. “Talk time” between caregiver and child remains critical for language development. Passive video presentations do not lead to language learning in infants and young toddlers. The more media engender live interactions, the more educational value they may hold (e.g., a toddler chatting by video with a parent who is traveling). Optimal educational media opportunities begin after age two, when media may play a role in bridging the learning achievement gap.
  • Content matters. The quality of content is more important than the platform or time spent with media. Prioritize how your child spends his time rather than just setting a timer.
  • Curation helps. More than 80,000 apps are labeled as educational, but little research validates their quality. An interactive product requires more than “pushing and swiping” to teach. Look to organizations like Common Sense Media that review age-appropriate apps, games, and programs.
  • Co-engagement counts. Family participation with media facilitates social interactions and learning. Play a video game with your kids. Your perspective influences how your children understand their media experience. For infants and toddlers, co-viewing is essential.
  • Playtime is important. Unstructured playtime stimulates creativity. Prioritize daily unplugged playtime, especially for the very young.
  • Set limits. Tech use, like all other activities, should have reasonable limits. Does your child’s technology use help or hinder participation in other activities?
  • It’s OK for your teen to be online. Online relationships are integral to adolescent development. Social media can support identity formation. Teach your teen appropriate behaviors that apply in both the real and online worlds. Ask teens to demonstrate what they are doing online to help you understand both content and context.
  • Create tech-free zones. Preserve family mealtime. Recharge devices No mobile signovernight outside your child’s bedroom. These actions encourage family time, healthier eating habits and healthier sleep.
  • Kids will be kids. Kids will make mistakes using media. These can be teachable moments if handled with empathy. Certain aberrations, however, such as sexting or posting self-harm images, signal a need to assess youths for other risk-taking behaviors.

Do you have questions about your child’s screen time? Start by checking out some of the tip sheets below. You may also want to talk to your child’s doctor or teacher for advice. And as always, The Coalition for Children, Youth and Families is here to listen to your concerns. Feel free to reach out to us at (414) 475-1246 to discuss this topic or other issues that affect foster and adoptive families.

Featured Tip Sheets


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