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Q&A:
How much time should my 4-year-old spend on the computer?

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Question


How much time each day should a 4-year-old be allowed to play on the computer? My son began learning on the computer about two years ago. He is adept at both educational and "arcade" type software; however, I am concerned that he is getting quite addicted. If allowed, he would spend literally all day at the computer. I try to limit his time but I don't know how much time is acceptable (and healthy) for a child his age.

Answer


The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children spend no more than one to two hours in front of a video screen per day. The bulk of this time should be educational programs. This includes television, computer games, and videos. The reasons are several: These activities are inherently sedentary, with little physical energy expended. Spending more than this amount of time takes away from play periods when children could be outside having healthful exercise and interacting with other children. Video viewing encourages snacking, adding to the excess calorie/inadequate exercise problem, which can lead to obesity. Also, as you can see, there is the tendency for some children (and adults) to become mesmerized by the screen to the detriment of other life activities. There is nothing wrong with spending a little time on videos or games that are purely entertaining, but that shouldn't be the way your child spends the majority of his time. In addition, even educational videos and computer games aren't the best way for children to learn. Interacting with an adult, discussing what has been read or watched, or relating other subjects to the topic at hand have all been shown to enhance learning. Watching a screen is one of the most ineffective ways to learn. Think about how much you really retain from watching Antiques Roadshow, even if you're fascinated by it, compared with what you retain from reading about and discussing a subject. You could use this situation to teach your child how to budget time. Give him, for example, a 1 hour "budget" each day to plan for his screen activities. Since 4-year-olds don't have a profound understanding of time, use a system of tokens or stars representing 15-minute periods and show him how many he has for each day. He can spend them like coins. Watching good shows such as Sesame Street together and talking about some of the topics afterward is an excellent way to maximize learning and use screen time to the best advantage. I think it is a bad idea to use extra computer time as a reward for behavior, just as it's a bad idea to use food as a reward. Remember that you are the one who has the ultimate authority to pull the plug.  
 
 
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