PhotoAre we letting kids spend too much time in front of screens? It’s a question to which there is no real scientific answer, yet there is no shortage of opinions.

Some say screen time is harmless, while others believe that parking kids in front of screens can have serious implications on a child's health and development.

But before addressing the question of “how much is too much,” it’s worth taking a look at how much time kids are actually spending in front of screens these days.  

54% increase

According to new research, toddlers are spending 25 days a year streaming television via Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, and other services. For the average 2 to 5 year old, that works out to about 1.8 hours a day.

Teenagers are spending just under three hours a day streaming videos on phones, tablets, and set top boxes, which translates to roughly 45 days a year watching TV.

Overall, Exstreamist’s analysis finds that we’ve seen a 54% increase over the past ten years in daily TV consumption by kids.

Possible risks

There is currently no scientific consensus on moderate television consumption after the age of eight, as no adverse effects on development have been discovered.

Still, experts recommend putting a two-hour cap on the amount of time kids spend in front of screens each day to lessen the risk of obesity and sleep problems. 

Because streaming television is a sedentary activity often accompanied by snacks, research shows that it could cause obesity. One hour of screen time equals around 167 additional calories in a kid’s day. Screen time has also been shown to negatively impact sleep patterns in children under three.

Healthy media diet

Since TV streaming is not going away any time soon, what can parents do to prevent screen time from taking control?

To start, parents should be aware that TV can distort reality. Teaching kids that TV is just for entertainment is one way to shield their impressionable brains from reality distortion.

Families might also want to go on a diet -- a “healthy media diet,” that is. Marjorie Hogan, a pediatrician at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis tells NPR that media should be part of our lives, but in a “planned, sensible way.”

Hogan suggests that parents and kids work together to decide how much time to spend in front of screens every day, as well as what media they should be watching. 

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