Keep your kids healthy by unplugging their screens

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Parents who worry that their children and teenagers spend too much time with electronic devices are right to be concerned, says the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and three Yale Medical Group doctors. Young people spend more time with cell phones, tablets, social media, online gaming, movies and videos than they do in school, and that behavior is contributing to a variety of risks and health problems.

The AAP released a statement, Children, Adolescents and Media, at the end of October. Some specific recommendations include:

  • Make a family home media use plan that includes mealtime and bedtime curfews for media devices
  • Limit entertainment screen time to less than two hours per day
  • Discourage screen media exposure for children younger than 2

In addition, the AAP advises pediatricians to take a media history and ask two media questions at every well child visit: How much recreational screen time does your child or teenager consumer daily? Is there a television set or internet-connected device in the child’s bedroom?

Sonia Caprio, MD, a Yale Medical Group (YMG) pediatric endocrinologist who is seeing increasing rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes in young patients, says she always asks families where the TV is located. “Kids are sitting in front of the TV for hours, and the pattern is very well related to their lack of physical activity and their body weight,” she says.

The options as far as media have multiplied in the last decade alone, with some children watching movies and TV shows on laptop computers or other devices that they take to bed. Craig Canapari, MD, a YMG pediatric sleep specialist, says, “If you have light and sound in your room when you are trying to sleep, it fragments your sleep. Computer screens emit white and blue light that can delay the circadian clock, making it difficult to fall asleep. Cell phones have the potential to constantly disrupt sleep.” Lack of sleep is associated with difficulty paying attention in school, and puts teens at an increased risk of getting into an accident while driving, Dr. Canapari adds.

The AAP recommendation that parents establish a family home use plan for all media is an idea that makes sense to Yann Poncin, MD, a psychiatrist at the Yale Child Study Center. “The youth of today are really the first generation to grow up in a fully screened world,” he says. Families should have a plan based on parental expectations and guidelines, tailoring it the individual child’s behavior and situation, he adds.

In addition, parents may consider setting an example for their children by limiting their own media use, says Dr. Canapari. “As a parent you need to show you are capable of unplugging.”

This Article was submitted by Claire M. Bessinger - Van Graan, on Wednesday, November 06, 2013.
Source: Yale Medical Group