- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Questions about when, where and how often people should engage with various video and phone screens are emerging as Americans increasingly rely on digital devices for entertainment, education and information during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Now anytime you are doing something to an excessive degree or for a large number of hours, there are things that are going to get crowded out,” said Dr. Sarah Vinson, a psychiatrist and founder of the Lorio Psych Group. “Sometimes it’s about what’s happening on the screen and sometimes it’s more about the fact that the screen is stopping things from happening in real life There are things that it crowds out that we know have beneficial impacts, like meaningful connections with others, dinner with your family, exercise, appropriate sleep.”

Research has linked excessive screen use to increased risk of obesity, sleep problems and depression along with eye problems such as computer vision syndrome, which can lead to blurred vision and eye irritation.

According to MedLinePlus, an online data service by the U.S. National Library of Medicine, most American children spend about five to seven hours a day viewing screens. A report by Common Sense Media found that teenagers between 13 and 18 years old spend an average of nine hours each day using entertainment media, while children ages 8 to 12 spend an average of six hours a day. Those hours don’t include time spent using media for education.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children younger than 2 years old have no screen time other than video chatting and children older than 2 limit screen time to one hour a day.

“Screens aren’t all bad. They aren’t all good,” Dr. Vinson said. “If it’s screen time for kids to connect with people who are meaningful to them and who they have relationships with who they normally get to see in real life, that’s really different than sitting down and watching ‘SpongeBob SquarePants’ for three hours.”

Here are some tips for practicing healthy and safe screen time:

Keep screens out of kids’ bedrooms and enforce a “media curfew” in place at meal times and bedtime. Decide which areas of the house are media-free.

Discourage entertainment media usage while kids are doing homework. Set a good example by turning off the TV and putting your smartphone on the “do not disturb” mode during media-free times.

Look for media sources that are educational or teach good values. Parents can choose programming that teaches their children good interpersonal skills to imitate and can be firm about what viewing content their kids can access.

Keep computers in public places in homes in order to monitor what kids are doing online and how much time they are spending on their screens.

Reach out to teachers about educational online and offline activities and resources for kids.

Choose quality content from trusted sources. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) cites as an example Common Sense Media, which offers suggestions for dance games and other active apps, websites and video games for families.

Create a family media plan. The AAP offers an online tool to make a plan on its healthychildren.org website.

Spend time on media together.

Ensure kids are using the internet and online devices appropriately. For example, parents can limit their kids’ online interactions to only people they have met in person.

Reduce glare. Change nearby lighting to decrease the effect on your computer screen or phone. Install a dimmer switch for overhead fixtures or add a glare filter to the monitor.

Rearrange your desk or sitting/standing position. According to WebMD, the best position for a computer monitor is slightly below eye level, about 20 to 28 inches from the face.

Follow the 20-20-20 rule and give your eyes a break. Look away from the screen every 20 minutes or so and look at something about 20 feet away for about 20 seconds.

Dr. Keesha Williams-Elliott, an ophthalmologist at the Metropolitan Eye Care Center, encourages people to blink during screen use and on their breaks and to practice good posture. Blue-light protectors also might help.

Clean digital devices on a regular basis using a disinfectant wipe or a soft, lint-free cloth. Do not spray cleaners directly onto devices.

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