US experts say it might be time for parents to relax a little about the perils of "screen time" and children.
Source:
AAP
22 Oct - 4:54 PM 

Parents of small children have long been hearing about the perils of "screen time." And with more screens and new technologies, the message is getting louder.

And while plenty of parents are feeling guilty about it, some experts say it might be time to relax a little.

Go ahead and hand your kid a gadget now and then to cook dinner or get some work done. Not all kids can entertain themselves quietly, especially when they are young.

"I know I should limit my kid's screen time a lot, but there is reality," said Dorothy Jean Chang, who works for a tech company in New York and has a two-year-old son. When she needs to work or finds her son awake too early, "it's the best, easiest way to keep him occupied and quiet."

She's not alone. Common Sense Media, a US-based nonprofit group focused on kids' use of media and technology, said in a report that kids aged eight and under average about two hours and 19 minutes with screens every day at home. That's about the same as in 2011, though it's up from an hour and a half in 2013 - the last time the survey was conducted - when smartphones were not yet ubiquitous but TV watching was on the decline.

While the overall numbers have held steady in recent years, kids are shifting to mobile devices and other new technologies, just as their parents are. The survey found that kids spend an average of 48 minutes a day on mobile devices, up from 15 minutes in 2013.

Some parents and experts worry that screens are taking time away from exercise and learning.

But studies are inconclusive. Economist Emily Oster said studies have found that kids who watch a lot of TV tend to be poorer, belong to minority groups and have parents with less education - all factors that contribute to higher levels of obesity and lower test scores. For that reason, it's "difficult to draw strong conclusions about the effects of television from this research," Oster wrote in 2015.

In fact, the Common Sense survey found that kids whose parents have higher incomes and education spend "substantially less time" with screens than other children. The gap was larger in 2017 than in previous years.

Jen Bjorem, a speech pathologist in Kansas, said while it's "quite unrealistic" for many families to totally do away with screen time, balance is key.

"Screen time can be a relief for many parents during times of high stress or just needing a break," she said.

Bjorem recommends using "visual schedules" that children can understand to set limits. Instead of words, these schedules have images - of dinner, bed time, reading or TV time, for example.

In an interview Oster said while screen time "is probably not as good for your kid as high-quality engagement" with parents, such engagement is probably not something we can give our kids all the time anyway.

"Sometimes you just need them to watch a little bit of TV because you have to do something, or you need (it) to be a better parent," Oster said.