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How Much Screen Time is Too Much for Children?

A few years ago I came home from a busy day at work at around 7pm.  Through the back door, ring the bell, wait in the kitchen, get hugs from my four kids.  I was a hero once again.

Fast forward to this past week.  Same routine except a different result.  Instead of being mobbed by my adoring children (as I like to remind them) in the kitchen, I just stood there on my own.  

The kids were busy.  One was using Cary's iPhone while another researching Legos on the laptop.  I had walked into another intense session of adolescent screen time.  

If you're like me, you occasionally wonder, "how much screen time is too much?"  You're worried that kids today will turn out to be antisocial, overweight and rude as a result of playing another round of MineCraft or watching more tweenager videos on YouTube.

I worry about those things.

New data revealed that only 1 in 4 young teens are experiencing an appropriate level of screen time per day.  (If you're wondering how 'they' come up with the screen time levels, here's an interesting article.)

So how much TV and computer time should a kid have per day?  About two hours or less as it turns out.  On face value, this makes sense until you factor in that 8 in 10 teens have cell phones, with increasing numbers of those being smartphones with internet data.  I would have a hard time telling a teen to not look at their phone or put down their iPad.  During dinner- sure no problem.  At other times?  More difficult.  

And we're not even talking about school work that is posted online.  

The recommended "adjustments" for kids who spend too much time online are common sensical:

  • Use the internet in short bursts
  • Use safe filters for kids on the internet
  • Provide group activities such that kids don't build "their secret world" online
  • Talk... alot (and then some more!) with your kids about what's appropriate and what isn't

The internet is fairly neutral- it can be a cause for great good or for dangerous activity.  Our job as adults is to help kids navigate the online world so that when they are fully immersed in it, it's not so shocking that they get sucked in to something bad.

Back to my own kids.  

Yes, I worry about their screen time.  No I do not worry about their sociability or ability to be productive citizens because I see them around people and they're amazing kids.  Part of that is because my wife and I are vigilant with what our kids do online and because our faith is always a part of dinner conversations and talks in general.

How about you?  Are you taking the time to talk with your kids about their internet use?