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Ask an Expert: How much screen time is too much?

Q. How much screen time is too much? From Wendy of Denver.

A. There is not a ‘one size fits all’ answer to the question of children and screen time. However, I can offer some guidelines to help you make informed decisions. First, set aside for a moment your question of ‘how much,’ and focus instead on what your child watches on television or plays on the computer.

I recommend that parents choose programs and computer activities the way they would choose snacks. Sponge Bob is analogous to cotton candy; Word Girl is more like apple slices. Look for quality and age-appropriateness. Shows need not be educational, but they should generally provide pro-social storylines, reflect positive values, and be relatively free of put-downs and negativity. If your child clamors for Sponge Bob, don’t necessarily say ‘no,’ but offer it in moderation, and pay attention to how your child responds to it. Also, don’t assume that all of the programs on a given station are appropriate for your child, or that even every episode of a favorite program is a healthy choice.

Read over the synopsis of a program if you have doubts. Also, watch with your child when you can. These same guidelines apply to violent or inappropriate content in video games. Stay active and informed in making media choices.

Now, back to your question of how much screen time is too much. Everybody needs down time. If your child is completing his or her homework, spending time talking and interacting with friends, family and pets, and actively participating in hobbies or pursuing extracurricular interests, excessive screen time is probably not going to be an issue.

Still want a number? Some parents decide to limit screen time to the weekend. Others eliminate television altogether. In my experience, many parents start with a limit of between 30 and 45 minutes of quality screen time each day for school-age children. You can then cut back (or perhaps add time) in relation to demands for homework and other priorities.

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