January 25, 2021

UW Health offers screen time guidance for families

Madison, Wis. — In a new study out today in a leading Pediatrics journal, UW Health experts urge families to be mindful of increased screen time, especially as we approach virtual classes in the middle of winter.

According to a recent New York Times article, children's screen time in May 2020 was double the same period in 2019.

During the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many kids have had to attend school virtually, placing them in front of screens for hours a day. Without extracurricular activities or the ability to gather with friends, kids are spending more time online than ever.

This is concerning, because experts say problematic and excessive media use has been linked to negative health and academic consequences, including worse sleep, lower physical activity and worsened mental health.

For families interested in better managing media use or screen time, experts recommend creating a family media use plan. A family media use plan is a customizable plan for parents and children to create guidelines on screen time and can help align media use with family needs and values.

"We know taking time away from screens has never been more challenging," said Dr. Megan Moreno, pediatrician at UW Health, professor of pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, and vice chair of digital health at the Department of Pediatrics. "That's why I think that now is an important time for families to identify tools that will help them navigate technology use."

Moreno is the lead author on the study out today in JAMA Pediatrics, "The Family Media Use Plan: A Randomized Clinical Trial." According to researchers, teens who participated in a family media use plan were more cognizant of their media use and perceived their technology interactions to be slightly less important in a follow-up survey.

Moreno not only suggests using a media use plan but creating screen-free alternatives with activities like puzzles, cooking, reading and daily walks to give kids (and parents) a break from screens.