HYANNIS – Most parents know their children need a lot of sleep. It’s why we put toddlers down for naps and enforce bedtimes for older kids. But, in today’s media saturated culture, electronic devices are intruding in every aspect of children’s lives. They are also costing them much-needed sleep.
A large review and meta-analysis of 20 studies of over 125,000 children published in JAMA Pediatrics showed that bedtime access and use of media devices were significantly associated with inadequate quantity and poor sleep quality leading to excessive daytime sleepiness.
Exposure to the light and stimulating content of screens is known to delay or disrupt sleep. Eliminating devices from the bedroom also ensures that the child isn’t awakened by a text from a friend and ensures a more restful sleep.
“I advise parents that media devices should not be used one hour prior to bedtime and that they not be in the bedroom overnight during sleep,” said pediatrician Elise Branca, MD, at Cape Cod Pediatrics in Harwich. “Removing electronics as part of the bedtime routine allows a child’s mind to calm down and get ready for bed.”
According to Dr. Branca, overuse of media and a corresponding lack of sleep can contribute to:
- Decreased attention span
- Poor school performance
- Behavior problems
- Decreased physical activity
- Higher risk of obesity
- Social isolation
She recommends that school-age children between 6 and 12 years of age get nine to 12 hours of sleep and that teenagers get at least eight to 10 hours of sleep every night.
The American Academy of Pediatrics Agrees
The guidelines recommend:
- For children younger than 18 months, avoid use of screen media other than video-chatting. Parents of children 18 to 24 months of age who want to introduce digital media should choose high-quality programming, and watch it with their children to help them understand what they’re seeing.
- For children ages 2 to 5 years, limit screen use to one hour per day of high-quality programs. Parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them.
- For children ages 6 and older, place consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health.
- Designate media-free times together, such as dinner or driving, as well as media-free locations at home, such as bedrooms.
- Have ongoing communication about online citizenship and safety, including treating others with respect online and offline.
Dr. Branca encourages parents to be thoughtful about media use and to keep it within the time frames that are appropriate for their child’s age. She also recommends that certain times of the day be kept completely media-free.
“Removing media devices during dinner encourages conversation,” she said. “Conversation brings families closer together. It allows them to talk about their day at school or at work. I also encourage families to keep homework time media-free.”
Aim For a Balance
The key is balance, she said. The more time children spend on media or electronic devices, the less time they are spending doing other healthier activities like outdoor play and even daydreaming. Creative play is very important to a child’s development since it contributes to cognition and what is known as “executive functioning” skills such as working memory, organization, planning and impulse and emotional control.
Dr. Branca pointed to a study in the November 2016 issue of the journal Pediatrics that raises concerns that children raised in homes with excessive media use have a greater potential for childhood developmental delays. Excessive television in early childhood is associated with cognitive, language, social and emotional delays. It also decreases the amount of time parents spend interacting with their children.
The AAP recognized that when media is used thoughtfully and appropriately, it can enhance a family’s life. To help families make good choices about media, they created a Family Media Use Plan tool they launched on healthychildren.org on October 21. It’s an interactive tool that allows families to plug in their own information to create a schedule for using media wisely.
“Skype and Facetime would be examples of thoughtful media use, allowing family members who may not otherwise see each other to communicate,” Dr. Branca said. “Family movie night is another great example of a positive media experience. Pick a movie together, watch it together and talk about the movie afterwards. When parents are present and engaged in the media time they get to know what their children are watching and can help direct healthy choices.”
For that reason, parents should set limits on their own screen time. Studies show that when parents are constantly distracted by electronics such as a cell phone, there is less child/parent engagement and interaction. Undivided attention and frequent eye contact are what create a strong bond between parents and their children.
Dr. Branca points out another significant reason parents should be thoughtful about own media use.
“The most important role model a child has is a parent,” she said.