How to Manage Media Device Usage in Children

March 10th, 2017

Physical Therapists are known to improve and restore motion and mobility. However, most don’t realize that healthy habits and overall promotion of wellness are current and critical movements to our profession. Over-exposure to digital media can negatively impact multiple life areas. Several cross-sectional studies have revealed pitfalls and positives from infancy to adolescent years. In the early years prior to formal school-age, children ideally should experience co-viewing with parents and caregivers. This will allow for discussion, interpretation, and social interaction while learning through devices is occurring. Watching together is key in preventing negative emotional/learning experiences while enhancing the family’s promotion of quality viewing material.

Under Age 2:

Should be very limited with avoidance of solo use. Focus on co-viewing, talking, and teaching. Infants/toddlers should spend most of their time in the physical world exploring, engaging, and interacting with others.

Ages 2 to 5:

Communication skills and social interaction has increased and enhanced during these years. However, independent understanding and interpretation are still limited. Continue to co-view with limited screen time up to an hour per day. Choose media that is educational, non-aggressive, and social. Keep in mind that most learning apps have proven ineffective in carryover to real world learning as they tend to target rote skills, or skills learned through repetition and/or memorization.

School Years:

Almost 75% of teens have a smartphone and roughly the same percentage use at least one social media site. The potential for problematic internet use abounds during these years including video gaming disorder, negative effects on school performance, risky behaviors, vulnerability to privacy/predators, and cyberbullying. It is necessary for families to have a collective, highly personalized, and integrated media plan. Frequent family communication/coordination talks are needed to promote balance and safety with rules, consequences, and safeguards established.

Although stages of development are different and ever changing for each child and family style here are some helpful tips at any age:

  • Monitor children’s media & avoid media use prior to bedtime and during meal times
  • Avoid media devices and digital activities as the primary way to calm your child
  • Develop a Family Media Plan
  • Utilize helpful community and internet resources such as
  • Encourage social play, outdoor play, and sports
  • Take advantage of free community events
  • Spend time in the kitchen, utilizing recipes or making dinner together
  • Head to the library or local bookstore and encourage reading
  • Try something new or start a new hobby with your child
  • join a local meet-up/play group
  • Spend a day at a local amusement park/museum

Overuse of electronics devices, if left unchecked can lead to sleep problems, learning and social delays, obesity, postural/muscle imbalances leading to pain/headaches, behavioral problems, and poor academic performance.

Written by: The Oceanside Therapy Group Physical Therapy Department

1) via American Academy of Pediatrics. “Healthy Digital Media Use Habits for Babies, Toddlers, and Preschoolers. October 2016. Internet.
2) via American Academy of Pediatrics. “Constantly Connected: Adverse Effects of Media on Children and Teens.” October 2016. Internet.