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Ask an Expert: Will too much screen time really ruin my kid?

Q. My son can’t get enough of computer games. Is it OK to let him spend hours every day playing online, as long as I’ve screened the games? After all, it’s too hot to go outside!

A. Summer is here and with it the return of the bored child. It is interesting how kids generally don’t like school and yet so many seem to do better during the school year because of the structure.  Bored children tend to become annoyed and annoying and irritated and irritating.

In this day and age, it is tempting to let them sit in front of the TV or computer because it’s convenient and keeps them occupied.  Heck, I’m a parent and even with my “child psychiatrist guilt” I have a tendency to do that as well.  Too much time in front of the screen, however, can lead to some serious problems for your children. So, despite the fact that summer is here, I thought I would hit you with a pop quiz to polish up your knowledge of the hazards of too much “screen” time for children.  Get ready because here we go! TAKE THE SURVEY NOW, or at least get a chuckle.

OK, if you checked out the survey, I think you probably picked up on the fact that the third answer is the correct one for all of the questions – except the last one, which is TRUE.

There are in fact a few good things about the Internet. We do not really know what the long-term effects of all of this media “screen time” will be.  The data that comes from studies on how media affect children have not proven any direct causation of problems.  My guess is that, over time, we will have a much better understanding of how this explosion of media exposure will directly affect people.  As you can surmise, the early data suggest that we are going to see much greater problems than benefits.

Like it or not, the internet and the other media are here to stay.  Your children will have access to them and will need to know how to use them. Your best bet in managing all of this is to set your child up for successful mastery of the media.

What parents can do

  • Model good behavior yourself;
  • Don’t have the TV on all of the time, limit your own media use;
  • Engage your child in discussions of how he or she views and uses media;
  • Most importantly, research consistently demonstrates that limit setting and monitoring the use of media seem to be the key to success.

The Center on Media and Child Health offers lots of information about the possible effects of media on children.  It is geared to benefit both clinicians and parents.  The web address is http://www.cmch.tv.

I wish you a great summer, not too annoying or irritating.  Do your best to find non-media activities for your children and definitely remember to use “screen” screen.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.