Ditch the Digital Babysitter

Many parents have likely given their child a device or screen to entertain or occupy them, but some estimates suggest kids are watching 5-7 hours of screen time each day. Joe Austerman, D.O., explains the ramifications of too much screen time for children.

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CLEVELAND – Many parents have, at one time or another, given their child a device or screen to entertain or occupy them.

That’s okay once in a while, but some estimates suggest kids are watching 5-7 hours of screen time each day.

That’s concerning, according to Joe Austerman, D.O., of Cleveland Clinic Children’s.

He said young minds need human social interaction and too much screen time can slow a child’s development on many levels.

“The more screen time a child has, the poorer outcomes they have with academic success, so, they don’t do well in school,” said Dr. Austerman. “The harder time they have in interacting with peers, the harder time they have in developing appropriate social acumen and being able to interact with people socially – it’s directly related to the amount of screen time they had.” 

Dr. Austerman said kids with an abundance of screen time may lose the ability to understand the emotions of others.

This can lead to a child having fewer friends, poor relationships and lower self-esteem, according Dr. Austerman.

In addition, research has associated higher levels of early childhood screen time with emotional and family issues.

For tweens and teens, he said spending a lot of time on social media right before bed can disrupt sleep and lead to trouble at school, including symptoms similar to attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

He recommends kids turn devices off at least an hour before bedtime.

Signs your child may be engaging in too much screen time include a complete obsession with digital media – to the point where they become angry or sad when it’s taken away or cut back.

He said parents looking to limit screen time need to remember it’s important to model screen-free behavior themselves.

“It’s very important that you get off social media, that you put your cell phones down, put them away when you’re engaging in family activities, and that translates to kids learning appropriate behaviors with screen time,” said Dr. Austerman. 

Dr. Austerman adds that sitting down to a family dinner is very positive for social, family and emotional development – so it’s especially important to turn devices off during dinnertime.

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