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Children and Screen Time: What's the Issue?

Technology is rapidly changing and growing as a major part of society.  Digital media consists of television, computer screens, tablets, smart phones and even children's computers.  So why not let kids be kids AND part of that world? The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has updated their recommendations to reflect the presence of media to allow more usage for learning and entertainment. The current recommendations by the AAP are as follows:

· Avoidance of all screens for children under the age of 18 months with the exception of video chats

· Introduction to digital media for ages 18-24 months should be brief and include high-quality educational programming viewed by child and parent so the parent can help the child understand what is seen

· Children ages 2 to 5 years should have a limit of 1 hour per day; co-viewing is still recommended to enhance understanding

· For children ages 6 and older; place consistent limits on the time spent with digital media. Ensure usage does not interfere with adequate sleep, physical activity or other behaviors essential to health

Further, the AAP recommends designating media-free times such as avoidance of media during meals and traveling. Media free locations in the home are also recommended such as the bedroom. Parents are urged to continually educate children about online safety in regards to respect and safe keeping of personal information.

Let's be honest…digital media can be quite fun and entertaining whether you like video games, watching movies, internet searching or social media. But what's the big deal for children? The following are a few of the things that happen to brain processing when viewing digital media:

Most of today's devices are lit by LED lights that have a much higher percentage of blue lightwaves than any other source of light - including the sun! Blue light from natural sources can boost attention, reaction times and mood. Blue light suppresses melatonin (the hormone that makes you sleepy) but when exposed to screens and their blue light, your circadian rhythm is disrupted making sleep harder to come by. Not only does it make it harder to fall asleep, your body also loses out on REM sleep (the type you need to feel rested).  Recommendation: Avoid blue light at night and apply screen color filters when able.

Digital media alters the visual system. If a game or video is fast paced, the brain has to process that information at the same fast pace to understand it. The changes in visual input from screens is considerably faster than visual changes that occur in real life. For children, their brain's threshold is lower and less developed and fast digital media may cause them to become super-focused to follow along. The visual system is closely linked to the vestibular system that controls balance and your awareness of where your body is in space. When the visual system is super focused, the vestibular system is paused and mood is suspended.  When the digital device is taken from the child, the child tends to be super-UN-focused. He/she will likely will become hyper, act out and be in a sour mood. It takes the brain some time to re-adjust to real life.

So what can you do to help? Limit the screen time your child gets according to the AAP guidelines. Incorporate physical movement and jumping at the end of screen time to help your child's brain transition from the fast digital pace to the slower pace of real life. Also, be sure to incorporate low-tech visual stimuli to your child's routine including reading, viewing still pictures and participating in the creation of art. The visual system is mostly developed by the age of 8 or 9 but current research is showing it may not be fully developed until much later in life. Do your part to set your child up for success.

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