Anyone who’s lived in the same residential neighborhood for a long time may sometimes wonder where all the kids have gone. Whereas in an earlier era — that is, before smartphones, tablets, TVs, video games and other screen-based devices — they would often see children playing outdoors, nowadays it seems more likely that the youngsters are indoors, staring at their electronic devices.
So, with school back in full swing, the American Heart Association is advising parents to taper off on their children’s excessive or unnecessary screen time — in favor of physical activity and sleep.
“When possible, all screen-based activities should be reduced to mitigate risks,” said an AHA statement on youth sedentary behavior that was released in September.
Too much screen time has been tied to poor sleep quality and poorer reading and social skills, the report says, and screen-based devices are making kids more sedentary, which can lead to being overweight and obesity, conditions that can increase the risk for other health concerns. Obesity rates among 2- to 19-year-olds have nearly doubled in the past 30 years, according to federal data, and studies show 5- to 8-year-olds are spending almost three hours a day watching TV and using smartphones, tablets or other devices. More and more young children have their own smartphones.
But keeping children off their cherished devices is easier said than done. Parents must have rules and enforce limits, experts say, because almost any activity other than screen time is likely to be better for them.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children aged 2 to 5 be limited to one hour of screen time a day, with consistent limits for older children as well. The Heart Association recommends that parents find other things to do as a family: Cook a meal together, play a board game, or take a walk around the neighborhood.
According to a recent Associated Press report, most parents notice that their teenagers are sometimes distracted by their phones, but think they’ve determined an appropriate amount of screen time for their teens. But it goes both ways: Kids also report that adults are sometimes distracted by their own phones when they try to talk to them.
While the tech industry and social media sites work to keep us engaged, the AP reports at least this one encouraging sign: More than half of teens surveyed said they’ve cut back on the time they spend on their phones and on social media.
So although the Heart Association’s warning stands, the survey suggests we’re moving in the right direction.