Health Team

How does your child's screen time measure up?

Posted November 1, 2017 5:30 p.m. EDT

— It's not unusual for children to sulk or throw a tantrum when parents demand they switch off the television or put down the phone, but for parents, what's on that screen -- or how long a child has been staring at it -- is the bigger worry.

The American Academy of Pediatrics warns that overuse of digital media and screens can put children and teens at risk of obesity, sleep problems, cyberbullying and negative performance at school. There are also safety concerns: The academy encourages parents to talk to their children about online safety and safeguarding privacy, ask them to refrain from risky online behavior like sexting and be wary of online solicitations.

Just how much time are children spending buried in screens?

A report released this year by Common Sense Media said children up to age 8 spend an average of 2 hours and 19 minutes every day on screen media. The lion's share of that time is occupied by TV and video viewing alone; it takes up 72% of all screen time.

That's an increase from 2011, when the average daily screen media time for the same age group was 1 hour 55 minutes. Time spent on most devices, including TV, computers, video games and DVDs, has dropped since 2011, but time spent on mobile phones has increased significantly. (The recent results were obtained through a survey of 1,454 parents of children age 8 or under conducted in January and February.)

For 8- to 12-year-olds, the average time spent using screen media every day was 4 hours and 36 minutes, according to a 2015 Common Sense Media report. Tweens spent an average of 4½ hours per day with screen media and 6 hours with all media, including reading and listening to music.

The report said the top activity among tweens was watching TV: Nearly 62% of those surveyed said they watch TV every day. But according to the 2015 report, there are differences in how tweens of different genders use their screen time. Boys spend more time playing console video games, while girls spend more time on music and social media. Mobile devices accounted for 41% of all screen time among tweens.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting screen media use for children younger than 18 months to video chatting. For older children, it advises that parents choose high-quality content and watch it with their children to help them understand what they're seeing.

Moreover, the academy says that screen media use should not interfere with children's sleep and exercise routines. The organization urges parents to ensure that their children have media-free times with the family and designate areas of the home as media-free zones.