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  • Writer's pictureMaria H. Drzaszcz

Kids and Screen Time


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I was asked to cover this topic recently and thought I’d lay out some health-minded opinions for my readers, as well as some medical facts. The minute by minute world we live now is connected by some sort of screen. From typing this very article now, to the IPhone that is attached to my hip, to my 9 and 11 year-olds on their own devices; it seems we all can’t do without screens. But, what are the implications of these very necessary screens on our youth and their developing brains?


A little Anatomy and Physiology recap: the human brain is not finished developing and maturing until mid to late 20s, with most of the brain development occurring before the age of 2. The part of the brain behind the forehead, the prefrontal cortex, is one of the last parts to mature. This area is responsible for skills like planning, prioritizing and making good decisions. My kid’s pediatrician recently mentioned a study that showed the prefrontal cortex in kids with high screen time usage actually shrinking on brain imaging, instead of rapidly growing.


According to MedlinePlus.gov, most American children spend 3 hours watching TV. When combined with other types of screens (cell phones, gaming consoles, laptops), this number can exceed 5-7 hours. The tween and teen years and this number increases even more, with some estimates saying 9 hours a day. That’s A LOT of time on a device!


The consensus among the medical community is that too much screen time can lead to a host of physical and emotional issues. Too much screen time can make it difficult for your child to fall asleep at night. It can also lead to problems with attention, obesity (as screen use is a sedentary activity), aggression, anxiety and depression. Spending lots of time with smartphones can also undermine our ability to regulate mood. Social pressure to communicate constantly through multiple apps also puts enormous pressure on the still maturing prefrontal cortex. In addition to the above, parents may not always know what their children are viewing on devices; making children vulnerable to violence and risk-taking behaviors, sexual content, negative stereotypes, cyberbullies, online predators and misleading and/or inaccurate information.


Current guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics say the following: no screen time before 18 months of age. They recommend introducing screen time gradually to children between 18 to 24 months and no more than one hour per day of high quality programming for children from 2–5 years. For kids ages 5–17, they should get no more than two hours of screen time a day, not including virtual learning or homework.


Remember to turn off all screens during family meals and outings. Learn about and use parental controls. Turn off screens and remove them from bedrooms 30-60 minutes before bedtime. Teach children about online privacy and safety. Consider your children’s or teen’s maturity and habits. What works for one family, may not be the right plan for another and that is perfectly OK.


I tell my kids frequently, we only get one brain; we have to do our best to protect it. As with anything in life, moderation is key. Setting some limits on the screens can go a long way.


Maria Drzaszcz, a Hammonton resident, is a 17-year registered nurse, who has worked in multiple specialty areas. She is open to covering new health and wellness topics and can be reached at MHHRN@comcast.net.

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