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A Blog from Your Kaiser Permanente Pediatricians in Northern California

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Screen Time and Your Teens? Start by Asking Them to Decide

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has clear guidelines for parents seeking advice about screen time for children: Less is better and content matters. 

For children ages 2 to 5, limit screen time to 1 hour per day of high-quality programs. Parents should watch with their younger kids to help them understand what they’re seeing. For older kids, screen time should come after completing other activities and tasks that matter to them and their family.

While these guidelines can be challenging to put into action, my mother would have had no trouble enforcing them. For most of my childhood, we didn’t have a television! I remember rough mornings in junior high school. Not only were they too early and cold (winter in New York is really cold), at school everyone was discussing last night’s TV shows. I tried to look casual or preoccupied while they sounded so…cool.

As a pediatrician, I understand the social power of being up on the latest show, app, game, or video. Being connected on Instagram, Pinterest, or Snapchat matters on today’s Monday mornings.

However, I want my teens and my teen patients to turn off their screens. I know doing so will broaden their horizons and shrink their waistlines. They also, on some level, get this. But it’s hard to translate advice and understanding into action.

So it’s perhaps ironic that I found some words to inspire teens to turn off their screens from an episode of Grey’s Anatomy. They have just the right touch of inspirational simplicity that appeals to the texting and social media crowd:

Decide.

We’re all going to die. We don’t get to decide where or when.

But we do get to decide how we’re going to live. So do it.

Decide.

Is this the life you want to live? Is this the person you want to love?

Is this the best you can be? Can you be stronger, kinder, more compassionate?

Decide.

Breathe in, breathe out, and decide.

When you put it this way, fewer kids would choose to spend so much time in front of a screen. And definitely not the average 7 hours a day kids are currently spending on entertainment media, including TVs, computers, phones, and other electronic devices.

Many parents have worked hard to control the amount of time their kids spend on media and devices. There are tools you can use to control exposure to inappropriate sites and time spent on media.

Before placing restrictions, you can also sit down with your kids and ask them for input and ideas. What should they be allowed to watch and use? Have they seen online content that concerned or scared them?

The AAP has a terrific tool for this conversation. It asks how many hours a day they need to sleep, eat, and go to school, then how many hours are used for chores, exercise, activities, family, and friends. At the end, it calculates how much time is left in the day and asks them what they want to do with it.

Using this Family Media Plan helps you and your kids limit screen time and asks them to “Decide.”

Find more resources for parents on My Doctor Online.

Disclaimer: If you have an emergency medical condition, call 911 or go to the nearest hospital. An emergency medical condition is any of the following: (1) a medical condition that manifests itself by acute symptoms of sufficient severity (including severe pain) such that you could reasonably expect the absence of immediate medical attention to result in serious jeopardy to your health or body functions or organs; (2) active labor when there isn't enough time for safe transfer to a Plan hospital (or designated hospital) before delivery, or if transfer poses a threat to your (or your unborn child's) health and safety, or (3) a mental disorder that manifests itself by acute symptoms of sufficient severity such that either you are an immediate danger to yourself or others, or you are not immediately able to provide for, or use, food, shelter, or clothing, due to the mental disorder. This information is not intended to diagnose health problems or to take the place of specific medical advice or care you receive from your physician or other health care professional. If you have persistent health problems, or if you have additional questions, please consult with your doctor. If you have questions or need more information about your medication, please speak to your pharmacist. Kaiser Permanente does not endorse the medications or products mentioned. Any trade names listed are for easy identification only.