At every well-child visit SLUCare pediatrician Matt Broom conducts, he asks two questions. First he asks about the amount of time the child spends in front of screens each day. Then he asks whether or not the child has a television and Internet connectivity in his or her bedroom.
The goal, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, is to keep screen time in communal areas and limit screen time to two hours a day. For children under the age of two, the Academy recommends no screen time at all.
According to Broom, too much time in front of screens can lead to health problems such as poor eating habits, not enough physical activity and not enough sleep.
When you’re using a screen, said Broom, “you are indeed sedentary. You’re more likely to do grazing; you’re more likely to have errors in your sleep or have disruptive sleep, potentially making poor diet choices as you’re grazing through on those snacks. And subsequently that leads down the line to being overweight or obese.”
In addition to health concerns, parents should be aware of the types of messages their children are being exposed to, said Broom. Even if the show is age-appropriate, the commercials may not be, for example.
“Screens are not just e-babysitters. We can’t put them down so we can run and take a shower," Broom said. "The reality is that we need to be interactive with our kids. What do you like about this show, what do you not like? What do you think about that? So we can actually see what they’re viewing. And the other key is setting limits. So many families don’t set limits, and if they don’t, the expectation is they can watch for however long they like.”
To help children get enough sleep, Broom suggests creating set times for screen use and setting a cut-off time – such as no screen time after 9 o‘clock.
Violent Video Games
While research on violent video games has not shown a direct connection with violent behavior, it has shown that children who play violent video games are more likely to have aggressive behavior. According to Iowa State University psychologist Douglas Gentile, “violent video games appear to increase aggressive thoughts and feelings, physiological arousal, and aggressive behaviors, as well as to decrease pro-social behaviors.” He published a study on the topic in 2003.
Screen Time for Children under Two
“There’s not good evidence that programming, be it either Sesame Street or educational videos, less than two has positive consequences for kids,” said Broom. “Less than two, when you’re still developing a lot of those key language skills, we want to make sure that we emphasize more interaction, creativity, reciprocal speech.”
In other words, while the screen itself is not directly harmful for babies and young toddlers, the potential loss of developmental opportunity is.
Matt Broom, M.D., is an assistant professor of pediatrics at Saint Louis University and a SLUCare pediatrician at Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital.