This article was written by Katie Vaughan and originally appeared in the Portland Monthly 2017 Kids’ Health Annual magazine as part of a larger series on independence.
When it comes to kids and screens, today’s parents are entering uncharted territory. The very devices we use for education and productivity are the same ones we use for gaming, socializing and fretting about the latest news. Children and adults alike are more exposed to electronic devices now than ever before, and the ways we interact with them can have a big impact on development. Dr. Craigan Usher, an assistant professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, emphasizes the importance of self-control.
“It’s not that electronics are bad,” he says. “It’s more about building the skills to be able to pick up and put down screens when necessary.”
By taking time away from group playtime or physical activity, too much screen time may negatively impact how kids develop social skills, build empathy and improve motor skills.
But how much is too much?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises no screens for children under 18 months, but it’s up to you to decide what’s right for your family.
“Start low and always supervise young kids with electronics,” Dr. Usher advises. “Remember that parents are the boss of screen time.”
It’s important to establish clear rules about what kinds of apps and how much screen time is allowed in your family, and hold everyone accountable – including parents!
Kids benefit from learning self control, and this is especially true with electronics. The ability to put down a device and move on to other activities is valuable throughout our lives. So, if your child throws a fit or feels overwhelmed when it’s time to stop playing video games, it might be a good idea to reevaluate whether your child is ready for electronics.
For older children, it’s important to encourage a balance of electronics and face-to-face experiences, like going for a walk, cooking, chatting or drawing together.
To bridge the divide, parents can play video games with their kids, ask about their favorite websites and inquire about their thoughts and feelings about their digital lives.