How much screen time is too much for kids?

You see it everywhere you go. You’re probably even guilty of it yourself.

The “it” is screen time. It could be checking your phone constantly for a text message or email. It could mean falling down the rabbit hole of Instagram stalking. Maybe you’re staying up all night to conquer the last level of a video game.

Or it could be a million other ways you’re viewing things behind a screen.

And as screens and technology become more prominent, younger children are accessing the Internet more than ever.

A 2010 study showed that in 1960 children spent 15 hours a week in front of screens, namely televisions. In 2010, children spent 75 hours a week in front of screens. The study also accounted for multi-screen viewing, such as watching a show on television while simultaneously scrolling through Twitter, for example.

“If you compare that, that’s 60 hours a week kids aren’t getting other activities,” said Kerri Kreh Reda, child development educator with the Family Health and Wellness program at Cornell Cooperative Extension. “That’s mostly play, getting outside in nature, sleeping, reading and interacting with friends and family. Mainly, activities that are more beneficial to their development.”

Local educators said they’re aware of the fine line between educating students about technology and making sure they’re not overexposed to it.

David Gamberg, shared superintendent of the Southold and Greenport school districts, said both districts look to balance incorporating technology into the classroom with getting the kids outside and active in their learning.

“It’s definitely something we must be increasingly mindful of,” he said. “That is to say what we are doing as a learning community to maintain the balance that children must have in terms of the use of technology versus the importance of play, the importance of being outdoors and learning through things like the school garden.”

Mr. Gamberg, Mattituck-Cutchogue Superintendent Anne Smith and Riverhead High School principal Charles Regan noted the positives of students interacting with technology, especially in a world where it is ever-present and constantly growing.

Students at all North Fork schools have recently had the option of taking a coding class. Additionally, many students in each district have their own Chromebooks to work with and use online websites, such as Google Classroom, to complete assignments. Additionally, at Greenport and Southold high schools, students put on daily television broadcasts on their respective channels, GPO TV and SOHO TV.

“The benefits of using technology are clear, such as collaboration, balancing brick and mortar learning time and online learning time,” Dr. Smith said. “The benefits of teaching children coding to do well in school and to do good in the world are also important.”

But Ms. Kreh Reda said those benefits aren’t clearly documented.

Rather, she sees the increase as damaging to the students’ creativity and learning processes, as well as their mental health.

“The newest thing I’ve seen with young girls is that they are having depressive episodes at a rate we’ve not seen before,” Ms. Kreh Reda said, noting the ever-growing presence of social media. “I’ve heard it called a mental health crisis. Technology is impacting just about every facet of our lives.”

Some Mattituck parents have noticed these effects as well, and asked Ms. Kreh Reda to speak at a parent forum last month so they can better educate themselves and help their children.

She shared with the attendees the newest recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which says infants under 18 months should not spend any time in front of screens, except for video chatting.

Young children ages 18 to 24 months should only use “high-quality programming and apps” and use the media with their parents. And children ages 2 to 5 years should be limited to one hour of high-quality programming each day, which should be co-viewed with parents.

Bedtimes, mealtimes and parent-child playtime should be screen-free, and parents should avoid using screens to calm a child.

Lastly, school-age children — 5 to 18 years old — should follow a “family media plan” that outlines which type of media can be used and for how long. Parents should help kids choose educational media and encourage their children to participate in other healthy activities such as enjoying family meals, physical activity, and getting more sleep, the study reads.

“It’s wild with the stuff we have now,” said Tonya Witczak, a mother of two children from Mattituck. “How do you learn about it? You have to go to meetings and talk to people and get information. It’s a lot, but it’s necessary. People need to be informed and they need to step up and get involved. It’s an ever-changing world and your child could get hurt.”

Photo caption: Local educators touted the benefits of technology in the classroom. But experts say depending on a child’s age, screen time should be limited. (Credit: Nicole Smith)

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