We hear about it all the time now – kids and adults alike spend too much time in front of a screen. Whether it’s for social media or games, movies or TV shows, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cites children now average 7-and-a-half hours in front of a screen each day for entertainment. That’s 114 days each year.
“Screen time takes time away from other activities that are important for a child’s development and health - like physical activity and healthy social interaction with family and friends,” said Patrick Marvil, M.D., a resident at Kootenai Clinic Family Medicine Residency. “A video or game on a cell phone can be an easy way to distract a young child, but we are not really doing them a favor developmentally by handing them our smartphone and not helping them learn to interact with and live in their world.”
While spending time using electronics is inevitable, organizations like the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) are working to create more awareness of its potential harm. To help curb screen usage, the CDC recommends the following.
• Ensure kids have one hour of physical activity each day.
• Limit kids’ total screen time to no more than one to two hours per day.
• Remove TVs from your child’s bedroom.
• Encourage other types of fun that include both physical and social activities, like joining a sports team or club.
“AAP recommends avoiding screen time less than 18 months of age - with the exception of video chatting. For parents considering introduction between 18-24 months, programming should be limited to high-quality educational programs like ‘Sesame Street,’ and the parents should watch with the children to make it an interactive experience,” Dr. Marvil said. “Just like reading to our kids, the screen time experience can be more beneficial for development if it is interactive.”
Screen time can also be a sleep disruptor, preventing kids from falling asleep at their usual bedtime.
“There are fast and hard cutoffs regarding screen time that should definitely be followed – especially the guideline suggesting removing screens at least an hour before bed,” Crystal Pyrak, M.D., faculty member at Kootenai Clinic Family Medicine Residency, said. “Any exposure before bedtime can impact your sleep quality and delay how long it takes to fall asleep. This goes for adults too, but children need a good, consistent sleep schedule for proper development.”
Although we’re now learning of the potential harm caused by too much screen time, Dr. Pyrak also emphasized what a powerful tool these devices can be. When used moderately for educational purposes, children can benefit greatly.
“These devices are engaging tools and can be incorporated for educational purposes,” she said. “There are so many learning games and educational shows. When parents model good behavior and really monitor their children’s screen time, that’s when you see the best outcomes.”
Step Away from the Screen
Providers from Kootenai Clinic Family Medicine Residency provide fun ways to entertain your children this summer sans screens.
Matthew Bean, M.D.
“Like most of us who live here, we enjoy doing activities outside. Recent activities that we have been doing include swimming, huckleberry picking, and bike riding. Some indoor activities we like include playing Uno and other games, or doing puzzles.”
Patrick Marvil, M.D.
“My wife and I have re-learned from our children to go slow in nature and appreciate the small things we might normally overlook in search of grand, sweeping vistas or experiences. For example, we sit down in one spot with our children for as long as they like and find all the small insects, pebbles, leaves, or whatever else that is in arm’s reach. We find the beauty in a fallen leaf to be as miraculous as the view from the top of a mountain. To help our children in this exploration of small things, we got them each a small magnifying glass. Now they can watch in detail as the spider eats the bug we just dropped into its web!”
Peter Sundwall, M.D.
“Coeur d’Alene area has this wonderful tradition of children (or adults) painting small rocks with various designs and distributing them along various hiking trails and parks. My kids and I first noticed this at our first small hike in the area. We learned that young hikers and park goers go on ‘rock hunts’ to find Coeur d’Alene rocks. They pick them up and take them and the drop them off at other parks or trails. If they find a rock they love they do keep it, but then have to paint a rock to replace it at any location. Our kids love this and it forces them to paint and improve their artistic creativity as well as getting outside and experience our amazing beautiful area. A win-win.” Note: You can follow Coeur d’Alene Rocks on Facebook and Instagram, and use the hashtag #CDARocks to document your findings.
Crystal Pyrak, M.D.
“I spend time with my son working in our garden at home. Teaching kids early how to help in the garden promotes healthy eating and light activity for the entire family.”
Thomas Clagett, M.D.
“As we try to model healthy behaviors for our kids to follow, we recognize that kids don’t necessarily fall in love with the outdoors when they start out. To make hiking and exploring nature fun and rewarding in itself we tried to forget the day-long treks and foster an interest for what outside has to offer. To do this, our first hikes had no destination, we simply went to a trail and allowed them to safely explore and observe what they see. Supporting their curiosity by allowing them to poke around in the woods gives them confidence and gratification when they discover something new. My kids now love finding things when we are outside: plants, rocks, crystals, mushrooms, flowers, birds, snails, fish, animals. With time and reasonable supervision of young kids, exploration can cover greater distances and build observation skills with an endless enjoyment of nature. As a parent, you will be showing them how the incredible ecosystem stays in balance. You can give them a greater appreciation for what often goes unseen in nature. Couches and screens can’t compete with this.”