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  • Writer's pictureDr. Susan Halverson & Dr. Jorie Shire

Balancing Act: Navigating Screen Time for Healthy Development in Children and Teens

In today’s digital age, children and teens are growing up surrounded by screens, from smartphones and tablets to computers & gaming consoles. 

As pediatricians, we understand the concerns parents have about the impact of excessive screen time on the well-being of their children. Recent research has shed light on the detrimental effects of interactive screen time, particularly on sleep, emphasizing the need for a balanced approach to technology usage.

Interactive Screen Time &Its Impact on Sleep

Any screen time before bed can disrupt sleep patterns, but emerging research suggests that interactive screen activities, such as texting & video games, may have an even more profound impact. According to a study conducted by Pennsylvania State University, teens who engaged in interactive screen time beyond their usual amount experienced delayed sleep onset.

For every additional hour spent playing video games during the day, the researchers observed a 10-minute delay in the teens’ sleep that evening. This finding underscores the importance of not only considering bedtime screen use but also evaluating the cumulative effect of screen time throughout the day.

The study by Penn State researchers categorized screen activities into two main types: interactive & passive. Interactive activities included texting, gaming, & social media engagement, while passive activities encompassed watching TV, online videos, & general internet browsing. The study also found that teens spend a lot of time with screens, including 2 hours a day communicating with friends, 1.3 hours per day playing video games & 1.7 hours daily passively watching TV or videos. That’s nearly 5 hours out of every day on screens.

It’s essential for parents to recognize the varied impact these activities can have on their children’s overall well-being & implement tools to limit screen time & increase their children’s physical activity.

Practical Tips for Parents: Navigating the Screen Time Challenge

  • Establish Clear Guidelines: Set clear & age-appropriate guidelines for screen time. Define when & how screens can be used, emphasizing the importance of balance.

  • Create Tech-Free Zones: Designate certain areas in the home, such as bedrooms, as screen-free zones. This helps create a conducive environment for winding down before bedtime.

  • Encourage Outdoor Activities: Promote physical activities & outdoor play to counterbalance screen time. Physical exercise not only supports healthy development but also aids in better sleep.

  • Educate on Healthy Sleep Hygiene: Teach children & teens about the importance of a consistent sleep schedule, emphasizing the need for a tech-free wind-down period before bedtime.

  • Use Parental Controls: Leverage parental control features on devices to manage & monitor screen time. These tools can help enforce established guidelines.

  • Promote Family Screen Time: Turn screen time into a family affair. Watching educational videos, playing interactive games together, & discussing online content can transform screen time into a positive & shared experience.

As pediatricians, we acknowledge the challenges parents face in navigating the digital landscape. While interactive screen time can pose risks to sleep & overall well-being, a balanced & informed approach is key. By implementing practical tips & fostering healthy habits, parents can guide their children toward a positive relationship with screens, promoting not only better sleep but also overall physical & mental health. Remember, moderation is the key to a healthy digital lifestyle for your child.


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