How much screen time is too much for your kids?

Suffering through another bitter Chicago winter may have your kids climbing the walls. The easy solution? Park them in front of the tablet, smartphone or TV screen to keep them quiet and entertained.

But how much screen time is too much?

For all ages, screen time should be limited to appropriate times and places, says Dr. Christina Benedict, pediatric hospitalist with Ascension Women's and Children's Hospital Hoffman Estates.

“Screens should be kept out of children's bedrooms and out of reach during meal times and bedtime,” Benedict says. “You want to make certain your children are properly socialized, are getting a good amount of physical activity and their sleep isn't interrupted.”

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the recommended guidelines for screen time for children include:

• Children younger than 18 months should not be allowed screen time, except for video chatting with distant loved ones.

• Children aged 18 to 24 months can be introduced to screens through educational programming.

• Children between the ages of 2 and 5 should be limited to one hour of screen time each day, also limited to educational programming.

• Children ages 6 and older should be limited by time and device type.

Children's brains develop at an astounding rate and the exact effect of screen time hasn't fully been determined, she said. And, it seems, Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy agrees, recently saying that even the typical age limit of 13 imposed by social media platforms is too young for a child's developing brain.

“For any child, unstructured play and genuine face-to-face interaction provides more valuable skill-building to their developing brains than a video or video game,” Benedict says. “Motor strength, problem-solving skills and creativity are better advanced person-to-person or with their imaginations.”

Benedict believes, as your child ages, it's imperative for families to make an effort to spend quality time together and socialize with their peers. Be sure to encourage outdoor activities, even in the winter months, and participation in school or community athletics or arts clubs.

“It's particularly difficult to curb screen time for teens,” she says. “But if they are engaged with friends and family, getting their homework finished and participating in extracurricular activities, you can be a little more lenient about your screen time restrictions.”

• Children's health is a continuing series. This week's article is courtesy of Ascension Illinois.

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