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Healthy You

Media Diet: Best Practices for Screen Time

Wednesday, March 01, 2017 7:31 AM

In today's age, it almost feels as if screens are unavoidable. From cell phones in the mornings, to computers at school, tablets at restaurants and TVs at home – it is so integrated into our lives. Studies have found that almost 30% of children in America play with a mobile device while they are still in diapers. For children and teenagers, media use is the leading activity of their day second only to sleeping.


Evora Brent, MD, Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrician at NorthShore, knows that too much screen time can lead to attention problems in children, school difficulties, sleep problems and obesity. Previously, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended a limit of no more than two hours of screen time a day for children ages two and over. With screens appearing everywhere, that recommendation has become nearly impossible to follow. While our devices can be used for good, they can also be a time drain. The new recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics is that we should be mindful about the quality and type of content we consume, rather than solely focusing on how much. This mindfulness can be thought of as developing a “media diet” for your family.

Because cutting out media altogether is almost impossible in today’s world, here are suggestions from Dr. Brent on how to develop you and your family’s “media diet”:

  • Be involved with your kids. With media, play with them as you would a board game. Use media to interact with your children, whether by watching a TV show together and discussing its themes, or sharing in your child’s interests by playing video games together. Some apps, shows and video games make it fun for the whole family!
  • Lead by example. Children often follow the same pattern of their parents. Limit your own media consumption by turning off the TV at dinner and putting your phone away while talking to them.
  • Choose the right type of content. When it comes to apps, TV programs and video games, try to make the content engaging and educational. Puzzle apps, brain games, language programs, as well as programs that teach social-emotional skills – like making friends, overcoming fears, appreciating diversity or how to respond to bullying – are great examples of a healthy media diet. This is where we like to practice quality over quantity.
  • Make it age appropriate. When looking at videos games, movie ratings and the app store, be mindful of the age recommendation made and the reasons behind it. You can often search for ratings online before deciding if it is approved for your child.
  • Set limits. Set limits for allowed time on screens; the rest of their “free time” can be spent playing without media. Children still need playtime, as it promotes creativity and physical health, especially with young children. In addition, set a mealtime and bedtime “curfew” for media device usage.
  • Media-free zone. In an effort to promote a healthy media diet, restrict where tech can and cannot go – such as a tech-free kitchen and children’s rooms. This helps promote a balance within the home.
  • Seek teachable moments. Kids and teens can slip up and make a mistake while using media. Use these instances as teachable moments. Do not tolerate behaviors such as inappropriate sexual content, self-harm images, cyber-bullying and giving out personal information online. Instead, depending on your child’s age, either communicate or have your child communicate the potential harms and the reason behind why such action occurred in the first place.

What kind of media do you and your children consume?