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Screen Time Series Part I: Daily Screen Time by the Numbers

The Family Resource Center recently held a Symposium featuring Dr. Sarah Jerstad, a pediatric psychologist at Children’s Minnesota, about what parents should know about screen time. Her level of insight blew me away. She applied her deep and complex understanding of research and child development to offer suggestions that were helpful, reasonable, and impactful.


While parents, caregivers, and educators of children of all ages could benefit from this content, the presentation and this summary focus on children ages birth through ten.


A New Problem or a Tale As Old As Time?

Throughout my childhood, parents primarily had to track time spent watching television. Today, screens are ubiquitous. Smartphones, tablets, e-readers, televisions, and computers abound in homes, workplaces, and schools. That said, concern about the detrimental effects of new technology is not a new phenomenon. Dr. Jerstad shared decades-old hand-wringing about the effects of listening to the radio. Many of the worries, including how radio would take children away from outdoor play, still resonate.


Today, screens are ubiquitous.

How Much Daily Screen Time Should We Have?

Dr. Jerstad relayed the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry’s recommendations for daily screen time usage by age. Keep in mind that ambient screen use, such as having a television on in the background, still counts as screen time and could contribute to some of the more negative effects.


Note: If your child’s current daily screen time use exceeds these guidelines, don’t worry. As we will learn later, you are far from alone. Unfortunately, parenting often comes with heaps of external judgment and internal self-doubt. If you feel shame begin to creep in, remember that perfection is a fantasy. We hold Symposiums and publish content to make wisdom from experts accessible, not to inspire feelings of inadequacy. As Maya Angelou wisely reminds us, “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”


Graphic from https://www.allaboutvision.com/conditions/refractive-errors/screen-time-by-age/.



How Much Daily Screen Time Are We Actually Having?

Our screen time habits, on average, exceed these recommendations. Dr. Jerstad revealed the following statistics:

​Age Category

Recommended Daily Screen Time

Actual Daily Screen Time

​Birth-2 Years

None

3 hours

3-5 Years

0-3 hours

2.5 hours

8-12 Years

2 hours

5 hours*

Adolescents

2-4 hours

7.5 hours*

*These figures do not include any screen time at school, so the actual figure could be much higher.


If reading tables is not your thing, here is the information in written form:

  • Children 2 and under averaged 3 hours of screen time per day.

  • Children ages 3-5 averaged about 2.5 hours of screen time per day.

  • Children ages 8-12 averaged almost 5 hours of screen time per day, a figure that does not include any school-related screen time.

  • Adolescents averaged a whopping 7.5 hours of screen time per day, which, again, does not count screen time at school.


Why Do We Exceed Screen Time Recommendations?

Researchers surveyed parents whose children had longer than recommended screen time and found that “[b]arriers to limiting television included lack of affordable alternate activities, convenience, inclement weather, parent fatigue, and desire to have time away from children to complete other activities.”


Many parents relate to these struggles. As adults, we have so many responsibilities. That said, our children need us to help them learn to self-regulate. Erecting reasonable limits and establishing good habits will pay off as they grow into adolescents and adults.


Check back for future screen time installments! In this series, we will examine why physicians recommend limiting screen time, how screens can be both detrimental and beneficial, and how to help children build good habits.


Reflection Questions:

  • Did anything surprise you about the recommendations and daily screen time statistics?

  • How does your family's habits compare to the recommendations? How do they compare to the national averages?

  • Do you relate to any or all of the barriers to limiting screen time reported by other parents?

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