Parenting in the digital age is not what it used to be, and the consequences for people who ignore the amount of time that their children spend using electronic devices can be disastrous.

In previous generations, the topic of “screen time” was controversial as well, as parents debated the amount of time they should allow their children to watch television. Today’s kids have many more choices, and many of them spend countless hours playing video games or communicating through texting and social media. And with smartphones and tablets being more prevalent, children and teens are able to conduct these activities out of sight of their parents.

Dr. Greg Robson is a general pediatrician at Oldham County Pediatrics in LaGrange. He said that in the 14 years he has been practicing, the evolution of screen time has moved the topic up the list of concerns.

“Something that used to be modest and inconsequential is now affecting greater activities on a daily basis for the patients in our practice, and I would guess for our communities at large,” he said.

Dr. Robson believes it’s important for families to create screen-free zones at home and to limit the amount of time children spend engaged in video games, on social media, and web surfing.

“I see patients who crave it to such a degree it’s compromising academic performance,” he said. “It’s leading to mental health issues, in regard to depressed mood, even arguably contributing to depression and anxiety levels. Sleep compromise and obesity are undoubtedly impacted by screen time in our youth.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics has addressed the topic and advises parents to set limits for screen time. The organization says children up to 18 months old should not be exposed to screens at all, while the limit for ages 2-5 is one hour per day.

For older children, Dr. Robson believes that once they have allowed for adequate sleep, are up-to-date on school responsibilities, and have gotten some exercise, two hours per day is a reasonable part of a well-balanced day.

“We see the sacrifice in time spent in sleep,” he said. “A patient gets six hours and should be getting eight to nine. Devices are in the room and aren’t kept out of the room and are used well into the evening because of easy access. I think it’s important that there’s a sanctuary in terms of where screens are able to be kept in the home, and the bedroom is not a place for them to be.”

Like anything else, time spent on screens isn’t all bad, but it does need to be limited. The danger lies when children neglect their other responsibilities and choose to spend time on screens instead of doing homework, playing outside, or talking with friends. And many don’t realize the value of in-person social interaction.

“The emphasis is on prioritizing, being mindful of school responsibilities,” said Dr. Robson. “Recognizing the crucial value of social exchanges that are face-to-face, that they are superior to what you’re going to get out of the screen. And making sure you’ve got opportunity for routine physical activity.”