What doctors and clinicians have found is that by spending significant time in front of a screen, many people neglect other aspects of a healthy lifestyle, including physical exercise, adequate sleep and simple, everyday interactions. Nowhere is this remarkable change more apparent than with young children.
"The more time a child spends in front of a screen the less physically active he will be," said Dr. Valerie Sprenz, assistant director of pediatrics with Mount Sinai Health System at CareMount Medical. "I have had many adolescent patients come in with the complaint of extreme fatigue, and upon asking a few routine questions, I find out that they are not getting enough sleep. Often times, being on their cellphones into the early hours of the morning is a major factor."
While there is scientific evidence that the blue light emitted from computer and television screens disrupts the release of sleep-inducing melatonin, Sprenz also stresses the importance of children putting down their devices and learning how to interact fact to face.
"I'm not suggesting people become complete Luddites and cancel the cable account," she said. "However, the American Academy of Pediatrics, or AAP, has recommendations [on screen usage] depending on the age of your child."
For children less than 18 months of age, screens should be avoided for anything other than video chatting. "I have seen many of my patients appeased by videos on YouTube," said Sprenz. "Ideally, this should be seldom, if ever used."
From 18 to 24 months, Sprenz recommends only high quality programming be viewed by children, and parents should watch with their children to help explain what is on the screen. According to the AAP, shows such as Sesame Workshop and PBS offer enriching content for children. For viewers age two to five, similar high quality programming is recommended, for a maximum of one hour per day. Once children have reached school age, parents should set consistent consumption limits that do not interfere with sleep and physical activity.
Finally, leading by example is very important when setting screen time guidelines. "Children learn from example, and if you as a parent are glued to your electronic device 24/7, you can hardly blame children if they do the same," said Sprenz. "For people of all ages, give the electronics a break every now and then and interact on a face-to-face level."
For more information on how to ensure appropriate screen usage for children, visit CareMount Medical's website.