One of the great debates about parenting in the digital age is whether children should have limits on screen time or the amount of time they spend looking at a digital display. With the advent and widespread usage of smartphones, screens have become almost impossible to avoid.

As they have become ubiquitous, the debate has become more complex. Does limiting screen time restrict a child’s ability to interact in the modern world? Or does it encourage digital handicaps that keep a child from developing?

Let’s take a look at some of the facts about screen usage so you can make an informed decision about whether or not to limit screen time in your household.

What is screen time?

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To begin with, let’s try to clear up what exactly screen time refers to. The World Health Organization defines screen time as anything that includes passive consumption of digital media on a screen. This, notably, excludes video games and makes no difference between types of screen, whether they are smartphones, computers, or televisions.

Are there health risks associated with screen time?

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There are documented health risks for children associated with overuse of screens. Some of the most important health risks, according to the Mayo Clinic, include:

  • Disrupted sleep patterns
  • Obesity
  • Social skill deficiencies
  • Behavior irregularities

As a parent, any of these behaviors is cause for alarm. If your child is exhibiting any of these issues, take an honest assessment of how much he or she is using a digital device. It may be a good time to limit, or at least reduce, the amount of time your child uses a screen.

Are certain types of screen time better than others?

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The type of interaction that occurs is important to experts’ assessments of how much screen time is healthful for kids. This also changes with the age of the child.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) in 2017 came up with a new set of guidelines for what is appropriate for developing minds. Under the advice given in this proposal, the only type of screen time that is appropriate for a child under the age of 18 months is video chat. After 18 months, games with a simple focus that are free from too many distractions are deemed appropriate.

As children get older, the rules become more difficult to define. After all, the AAP says, media use in teenagers is not bad by itself. It can help develop important skills such as research and collaboration and can strengthen social skills that depend on digital communication.

However, teenagers are just as vulnerable to developing the health risks described by the Mayo Clinic above. One important way to combat this is to implement phone-free zones, such as at the dinner table or in the bedroom.

Screen time control needs to be taught by example

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Average adults look at their phone over 150 times per day. It can be tough to enforce a limit on screens when your child sees you glued to your own. To help curb screen time usage among the young people in your household, consider your own screen habits.

Of course, that can be tough in our hyper-connected world where jobs and relationships depend on constant access to our devices. But that might just make it even more important to find a healthier balance between your home life and dependence on devices.

At the end of the day, there is no one solution for screen time, just as there is no one best way to raise a child. You must take a balanced look at how your child is interacting with his or her device and determine whether it benefits him or her.