Limiting screen time vital for child development, says Francis Darr, MD, of Pediatrics at UPHS

MARQUETTE — By now nearly everyone — young and old — has an electronic device on them at all times. While these tools are useful sources of entertainment and information, it’s best they’re used in moderation. 

“We live in an era when screen time is really pervasive,” said Francis Darr, MD, Pediatrics at UP Health System. “There have been multiple studies that have shown too much screen time can lead to obesity and poor social skills. That’s where our interest in limiting screen time arises.” 

“As pediatricians, that means we want to have non-educational screen time limited to no more than two hours daily. To be honest, less than that is even better.  Two hours is the upper limit.”

When you’re working with screens for an excessive amount of time, you’re not burning calories or getting your heart rate up. And since it’s typically an introverted activity you’re doing by yourself, the growth of a child’s social skills are also limited. 

One determining factor for how much screen time a child should have is based off its age. For young toddlers, The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended no screen time.

“Encouraging families to engage their child without screen time is so important,” he said. “Especially for pre-school age children, we want families to understand the importance of play. Play is beneficial for many reasons. It engages the mind in creativity and also is the most important way for these kids to get exercise by running around, jumping, getting outside and getting fresh air.”

For older kids, there are more exercise options available. Sports have been proven to be strong developmental tools for children as they grow older.

Francis Darr, MD.

“Sports involvement has been shown to be beneficial for academic success, socialization and physical health,” Darr said. “Rather than say go out and exercise, you can tell them to go out and play basketball with their friends or to engage in other activities they enjoy. The more they enjoy the activities, the more likely they are to continue to be involved in them.” 

“I think it is essential to reason with older kids about the disadvantages of screen time.  They need to understand why limiting screen time is important if you want them to take it seriously. Honestly, it is an issue for adults as well. Hopefully, by engaging the adolescent in these conversations, we can have an impact in the adults in the family as well.”

Managing screen usage has been an increased topic of conversation for Darr with his patients. Sometimes, if a patient is having behavioral problems or struggling in school, he has found the child uses a phone in bed while their parents are sleeping. The kids are spending hours on their phones instead of sleeping, leaving to rest deprivation. 

“Lot of adolescents are spending time on screens at night and their parents aren’t aware of it,” Darr said. “I encourage families to confiscate those electronics when bedtime is approaching. In addition to the fact you’re not sleeping while you’re looking at the screen, that light shining in your eyes when you’re trying to sleep actually interferes with the natural circadian rhythms of the body. The release of hormones that are involved with sleep is then impaired by excessive light entering the eyes. Getting rid of that direct light source becomes important for kids who are struggling with fatigue and school success.”

In order to limit screen time for children, Darr suggests making it a family-orientated goal, starting with the adults. If parents are spending excessive amounts of time on their devices, their children are more likely to follow their lead. 

“We try to talk about those things and try to encourage better activity levels for the whole family,” Darr said. “Lifestyle decisions we make together as families are more likely to be followed, making us all healthier.”

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