Screens and kids

Nov. 12, 2018


Photo: Getty Images.

Smart phones, tablets and computers are a part of daily life – for children as well as adults. But how much is too much?

“One study showed 24 percent of adolescents feel constantly connected to the Internet and 50 percent report feeling addicted to their phones,” said Dr. Patrick Grathwohl, a pediatrician in Steamboat Springs and a member of the medical staff at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center.

“It’s not that all screen time is bad – there can be great benefits to it. But I think the goal is to have a healthy relationship with it.”

Below, Grathwohl outlines what you need to know when it comes to kids and screen time.

UCHealth encourages you to #checkout.

Before it was Black Friday and before social media, the day after Thanksgiving used to be just another day to play. It was a bonus day off to connect with friends and family.

Instead of looking at a screen, here are a few tips for checking out, any time.

  • Turn off your devices at the restaurant. We promise you’ll be ok.
  • Start a sing-a-long in the car. Don’t worry if you’re off key.
  • Play a pickup game of basketball. Watch those elbows.
  • Take a walk. Take the dog while you’re at it.
  • Go sledding. Bundle up!
  • Do an art project. Don’t be afraid to get messy.
  • Call a relative you haven’t spoken to in a while.

Here are other ways you can #checkout.

Vary screen-time limits by age

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children up to 18 months old should have no screen time, while children up to 2 years should have very little.

“A lot of brain development is happening and young kids learn best through exploratory play, or interacting with their world – not through screens,” Grathwohl said.

For young children, screen time doesn’t offer significant benefits, while too much poses health risks, including social, emotional and cognitive delays. But don’t give up FaceTiming with grandparents: interactive video calls are considered fine for this age group.

From ages 2 to 5, screen time should be limited to one hour of high quality programming, and it is best if parents watch with their kids. Above age 6, families should decide what limits are appropriate.

“Less than two hours of screen time is the goal,” Grathwohl said. “Which today is not easy.”

Know it’s not too late to foster good habits

“Our brains are constantly changing and adapting to our environment,” Grathwohl said. “Children are quicker than adults to do that. You can still make positive changes even if you got off on the wrong foot.”

Those changes are worth it. Skills gained through screen-free time – such as making eye contact and speaking with people in real time – are especially important for children growing up in a high-tech world.

Keep screens out of bedrooms

Having a smart phone or tablet in the bedroom is associated with various health risks, including sleep deprivation and obesity. Grathwohl recommends setting up a family charging station in the kitchen or living area, where all devices go for the night.

Avoid screens before bed. “You should have 30 to 60 minutes of screen-free time before going to sleep,” Grathwohl said. “It takes your brain awhile to wind down from processing all of that information.”

Stay connected with older kids

Limiting screen time can be more difficult with teens, but it’s important for parents to stay involved.

“Let them know you’re going to do routine checks on their devices, not because you don’t trust them but just to keep them safe,” Grathwohl said.

Be aware of the risks: studies show that parents underestimate the risks posed when kids interact with people they don’t know online, and that cyberbullying affects 10 to 40 percent of adolescents.

Lead by example

“The No. 1 place kids learn from is their parents and they’re going to mimic what we do,” Grathwohl said. “If you’re constantly on Facebook or Instagram, not only will you miss out on your kids’ growth and development, but they’re going to learn that that’s the norm.”

Aim for screen-free time at least once a day, for instance from 6 to 8 p.m., so you have time to interact and bond.

As you help your child navigate life with technology, keep in mind that setting limits on screen time is just another part of parenting.

“You protect your kids from everything you can,” Grathwohl said. “This is another area where you have to monitor and mentor your kids, so they continue to grow happy and healthy.”

Dr. Grathwohl recommends three sites for gauging whether shows or apps are appropriate for your children:,,

This article first appeared in the Steamboat Pilot & Today on Nov. 5, 2018.

About the author

Susan Cunningham lives in the Colorado Rocky Mountains with her husband and two daughters. She enjoys science nearly as much as writing: she’s traveled to the bottom of the ocean via submarine to observe life at hydrothermal vents, camped out on an island of birds to study tern behavior, and now spends time in an office writing and analyzing data. She blogs about writing and science at