Stories about: limiting screen time for your kids

When school is online, how much screen time is too much?

Michael RichMichael Rich, MD, MPH, is Boston Children’s Hospital’s media expert and director of Boston Children’s Center on Media and Child Health. Send him a media-related parenting question via and follow him on Twitter @CMCH_Boston.

Q: I teach for an online school that serves students in 4th through 12th grades. All of our lesson content is web-based, and the school would like to add three hours of synchronous lesson delivery four days a week. I believe that the school is trying to satisfy the parent desire for face-to-face contact between students and teachers—in this scenario, students can ask questions in real time and get their answers right away. Personally, I think that it is too much screen time for the students. All of the data I see indicates that screen-time does not count when it is for educational purposes, but that does not seem quite right to me. What are your thoughts on online education and how much time a student in an online school should spend using screens?

Skeptical about Screen Time, in Alberta, Canada

A: Dear Skeptical,

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Regulating screens in a family with children at different developmental stages

Michael Rich, MD, MPH, is Boston Children’s Hospital’s media expert and director of Boston Children’s Center on Media and Child Health. Send him a media-related parenting question via and follow him on Twitter @CMCH_Boston.

Michael RichQ: My wife and I have twin 6-year-old boys and a 4-year-old boy. Many of the strategies I’ve seen about responsible screen use, digital media, TV, etc. seem herculean for a family like ours. My wife will use commercial-free videos so she can take a break to cook, as well as online videos of volcanoes, jet fighters, etc. to engage the boys. I buy DVDs in German, as we are a multi-lingual household, and I’m trying to teach and maintain German, despite my being away often due to my schedule.  My question is, how can my wife and I make sure that we are only using screens meaningfully when we have multiple children at different developmental stages?

-Managing Multiples, in Philadelphia, PA

A: Dear Managing,

Your question addresses an issue many parents face, namely, how can we manage screen media use so that each of our children’s developmental needs are met, despite being at different developmental stages?

To help you tackle these issues, first look at their 24-hour day and assign time for the essentials such as sleep, meals, family time, school, and physical activity to help you figure out what time is left to potentially engage in screen media. Then, in the times when media are a good option, choose media with a goal in mind, instead of simply as an ‘electronic babysitter’ or what was once called the ‘plug-in drug’.  It sounds as though you and your wife are already doing this by choosing media that will help teach your children a second language (or about something of interest , like volcanoes and jet fighters). Because you are designing their schedules with them, you may be able to plan when media content can be viewed by all ages, as in learning German, and times when content for the older and younger kids can be viewed separately, because the others are involved in different activities.

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Visit Healthy Family Fun's website for great parenting advice

CookPoster-300x230For this week’s edition of ‘Ask the Mediatrician,’ Thrive is linking to an article Dr. Michael Rich wrote for the Healthy Family Fun campaign, on how and why parents should limit their children’s use of screen media to less than two hours a day. Healthy Family Fun is a project of Children’s Hospital Boston and Kohl’s Department Stores, developed with the input of community members and professionals in Jamaica Plain and Roxbury, to promote fun, low-cost, family-oriented activities and healthier living.

While visiting the site, be sure to check out a new article about how parents can limit fast food consumption in their family, written by Jenny Kinne, MSRD, LDN, and Clinical Nutrition Specialist at Children’s One Step Ahead program.

For more tips on screen time limiting, please visit Children’s  Center on Media and Child Health website.

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