In recent years, parents have heard from physicians and educators about how terrible screen time is for children. Vast research has linked increased screen time to obesity, psychological issues, sleep disturbances, and behavioral issues.

However, many parents found the recommended limits set for screen time in our technology-driven society were very hard to follow according to Janice Emery, 4-H youth development specialist with the University of Missouri Extension.

“Our society is using more technology every day, so rather than resist these changes when it comes to children, it is better to find a healthy way to embrace it,” said Emery. 

Last fall, the American Academy of Pediatrics revised their recommendations on screen time for children.  The AAP now recommends using the Family Media Use Plan Tool and recommends tailoring screen time to each family’s needs.  According to the AAP, for school-aged children and adolescents, the idea is to balance media use with other healthy behaviors.

“Technology, like anything else, should be used in moderation.  Unplugged playtime is still important, especially for very young children, as play is how they learn and develop properly,” said Emery.

“Even with broader screen time limits, screen-free zones are still important.  For example, preserve mealtime or morning commutes to school for talking and family interaction rather than looking at a screen,” said Emery.

Doing this keeps screen time reasonable and encourages healthier eating and sleeping habits.

“Parenting itself has not changed.  Parents still need to be mindful of what their children are doing, who they are interacting with, and what content they are using regardless of their age,” said Emery.

“Do not be fooled into thinking that just because content is labeled as educational that it is.  Try using the Common Sense Media Organization, as they review age appropriate games and programs,” said Emery. 

University of Missouri 4-H integrates technology in many different projects. Members of 4-H can learn to use technology responsibly while forming STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Match) skills in projects like Lego Robotics, or, for example, using technology to keep track of their animal’s weight and feed costs in a livestock project. 

4-H offers parents and children opportunities to bond, share interests, and learn new skills.  4-H’ers are also more likely to grow up to be civilly responsible adults.