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Pediatrician recommends families set aside screen-free times during pandemic

Posted at 1:50 PM, Dec 21, 2020

CINCINNATI — Screen time was a perennial concern for modern parents well before the COVID-19 pandemic began. Now, with nearly half of Ohio school districts conducting classes only over the internet and most in-person socialization sharply limited, it’s even more of a catch-22. How much is too much? How little is too little?

Children’s Hospital pediatrician Dr. John Hutton studies the effect of technology on children and adolescents, and even he isn’t sure.

“Screens have become such a huge part of kids’ lives in a very short period of time that we really don't know a lot of the longer-term effects,” he said Friday.

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry has found some correlation between extended screen time and trouble with sleep, mental health, and school performance.

Hutton said it’s likely not all the same. Using a laptop, smartphone, or tablet for school, as most Ohio children have done since March, doesn’t necessarily have the same effect as using the same device for social media or games.

Still, he encouraged families to closely examine the amount of time they and their children spend using screens every day. He recommended setting aside screen-free times, such as during meals, and encouraging battery-free activities such as reading or playing outside as a healthy complement to children’s daily routines.

"I think it's very important,” he said. “I think every family is going to have something that's realistic for them. I think there's definitely not a one-size-fits-all."

This story was first reported by Josh Bazan at WCPO in Cincinnati, Ohio.