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Reducing Screen TIme

Published on Saturday, June 1, 2019

By: Annie Oeth,

Don’t let children’s free time this summer turn into hours in front of a screen, University of Mississippi Medical Center experts advise.

They say more time with computers, televisions, smartphones and video games can lead to decreased interaction with family members; increased chances of obesity and developmental delays; and lack of sleep.

Portrait of William Moskowitz

Dr. William Moskowitz, Children’s of Mississippi chief of pediatric cardiology and co-director of the Children’s Heart Center, said youth from children to teenagers should get at least one hour of physical activity and have a limit of no more than two hours of screen time each day.

“Studies show that the more screen time children get, the less physical activity they have,” Moskowitz said. “For children to grow into healthy adults, they need to have good habits right from the start.

“Too much screen time means less time playing and less time bonding with family members.”

Research includes a 2008 study published in the Journal of Pediatrics that showed children who don’t meet the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations on screen time are “three to four times more likely to be overweight.”

Portrait of Dr. Susan Buttross

For children, that interaction with family members is more than dinnertime chit-chat. It can spurs a child’s development, said Dr. Susan Buttross, a UMMC professor of pediatrics and host of Mississippi Public Broadcasting’s “Southern Remedy: Relatively Speaking.”

“From our perspective, screen time in the under-5 age group should really be limited because the way children learn best is through the ‘serve and return’ process,” Buttross said. “A child says a word and the parent says the word again correctly or helps the child expand the thought. The child says, ‘Puppy.” The parent says, ‘Yes, that’s a cute, brown puppy. Do you think the puppy is hungry?’

“This exchange could go on for some time. It exposes the child to more language, to learn how to process through a thought and to make eye contact and interact back and forth. That back-and-forth interaction is so reinforcing and something that screen time really doesn’t give.”

The idea of screen time limiting verbal communication skills is supported by a 2019 study published in the Journal of Development and Behavioral Pediatrics that found young children who use mobile devices daily are more likely to experience speech delays.

Buttross said for older children and adolescents, time away from the screen is still vital to healthy living.

“There are so many issues that surround teen screen time,” she said. “If we separate the screen time that is used for academic work, then the recommendation is two hours per day.

“Screen time excess increases the risk of obesity, depression, anxiety and diminished social face-to-face skills. It also increases the ease of bullying.”

She said multiple studies have shown a relationship between excess screen time and children and adolescents not getting enough sleep. A 2017 study published in JAMA Pediatrics showed a correlation between the time toddlers spend in front of a screen and poorer scores on developmental tests later in childhood.

Moskowitz said too much screen time can lead to health problems.

According to a 2017 study published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood, children who spend more than three hours a day on video games, computers, smart phones or television were less lean and more likely to show signs of insulin resistance.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends families have a media plan that takes into account the health, education and entertainment needs of each child as well as the whole family. The AAP’s guidelines include:

   •  For children younger than 18 months, avoid the use of screen media other than video chatting.

   •  Parents who want to introduce digital media to children 18-24 months old should choose high-quality programming and watch it with their children to help them understand what they're seeing.

   •  Screen use for children 2-5 years old should be limited to one hour per day of high-quality programming. Parents should view media with their children to help them understand what they are seeing and how to apply it to the world around them.

   •  Children 6 and older should have consistent limits to screen time. Parents should make sure screen time doesn’t interfere with their children’s sleep, physical activity and other healthy behaviors.

   •  Parents should put their phones and laptop computers away to make times such as family meals media-free.

   •  Designate screen-free areas of the home, such as bedrooms or dining areas.

   •  Have ongoing family conversations about online and social media safety, including the importance of treating others with respect online and off.

To view the AAP’s online guide and calculator for creating a family media-use plan, visit

The above article appears in CONSULT, UMMC’s monthly e-newsletter sharing news about cutting-edge clinical and health science education advances and innovative biomedical research at the Medical Center and giving you tips and suggestions on how you and the people you love can live a healthier life. Click here and enter your email address to receive CONSULT free of charge. You may cancel at any time.