The Netflix babysitter: What parents need to know about screen time

Netflix kids streaming videoHalf of children under 8 now have access to a mobile device of some kind, be it a tablet or smartphone. With Christmas just around the corner, it’s probably safe to assume that statistic will leap even higher in the next week as more kids find their first iPad or Galaxy Nexus under the tree.

Not surprisingly, Netflix has quickly become the busy parent’s best friend. Whether on a tablet, smartphone or TV, many small children can now navigate through Netflix’s vast collection on their own. No wonder Netflix struck a deal with Disney for the exclusive rights to stream Disney content starting in 2016.

For well-meaning parents, allowing kids “screen time” comes with some inherent guilt. Although TV or apps on a gadget are sometimes a necessary evil (with some children, it might be the only way a parent can free themselves to cook dinner or clean the house), it’s the same time that would have been spent playing outside or with toys a generation ago. Among pediatricians, there are some very legitimate concerns about childhood obesity, irregular sleep patterns, and violence that seem to come along with increased screen time.

So what ground rules should parents have for responsible tablet and smartphone use? And how much is too much?

The official recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics is about two hours per day or less. Children under two should not have any screen time at all. A good idea is to accustom the kids to a balanced lifestyle: equal parts screen time and traditional playtime.

There are very few people left who are willing to argue that a lot of TV is beneficial for a child. The same cannot be said for the explosion of early childhood educational apps for tablets and smartphones. Because the birds fly at a certain speed and trajectory, the kids have to be learning physics, right? Yet the market is so new that there have been very few studies on the effectiveness of learning apps geared for small children.

The Guardian recently ran the results of a study that showed brain stimulation at age 4 could show lasting, beneficial effects in the teenage years. Again, because this was a 20-year study, apps were not part of the equation. Books and educational toys were, both of which have now been “replaced” by gadgets. Certain educational companies have run studies for their particular apps, but nothing peer-reviewed.

Keep in mind that screen time needs to be one rigid block of time that covers both TV and tablets. They should use one or the other, not both. If the kids are using the tablet, the TV goes off, and vice versa.

Keep screens out of the bedroom. It may be common sense, but children with a TV or computer in their bedroom use them more. It also makes it harder for you to monitor what they are watching or playing, and when.

Watch and play together. The temptation is for gadgets to be a cheap babysitter, but that’s not a healthy approach. Whenever possible, consume this technology together with your children. Some interesting conversations can spring from the subject matter on Netflix or the learning apps available for tablets.

No screens within an hour of bedtime. Backlit screens can interfere with our natural sleep rhythms, tricking us into a waking pattern rather than a sleeping pattern. While this is true for everybody, children are particularly susceptible.

No screens at dinner, and certainly do not eat in front of the TV. This practice has been linked to obesity, because it fosters a habit of mindless snacking in front of the TV or gadget. Use dinner as an opportunity to reconnect whenever possible. Kids learn their habits from their parents, so if they see their parents playing with their gadgets incessantly during meals, they will as well. Play the “phone stacking” game if you have to: Everyone stacks their phones during dinner, and the first person to crack and touch the pile loses.

For your own sake, use parental controls so your kids cannot download whatever they want. You’re just asking for a big, inappropriate credit card bill if you neglect to lock down the App Store or Google Play Store.

Finally, be an active parent and choose content wisely for your children. You can tell when an app is appropriate and educational, and when their time could be better spent with another activity. The distractions may have changed from when you were a kid, but common sense is as potent as ever.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

Home Theater

Game of Thrones’ season 8 premiere reminds us why Daenerys shouldn’t be queen

In the premiere episode of Game of Thrones' eighth season, Daenerys Targaryen is poised to rule the Seven Kingdoms, but all the evidence indicates that she's a terrible candidate for the job.
Gaming

The best video games for kids, sorted by age group, for April 2019

There are a wealth of great games out there that both parents and kids can enjoy together. We compiled a list of 30-plus games across all genres that are sure to make family game night a great time.
Home Theater

Netflix vs. Hulu vs. Amazon Prime: Battle of the on-demand streaming giants

Trying to figure out which subscription streaming service to use while sticking to a frugal entertainment budget? Check out our updated comparison of the big three: Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, and Hulu.
Movies & TV

Two Toy Story spinoffs schedule playdates with the Disney Plus streaming service

Disney's direct-to-consumer streaming video service Disney Plus will launch with an impressive catalog of classic content, new projects, and original shows and movies. Here is everything confirmed and rumored to be coming to the platform.
Movies & TV

Disney Plus: Our first look at Disney’s impressive new $7 streamer

Disney Plus arrives on tablets, phones, and streaming boxes this fall, and we've got your first look at the service's user interface, its features, and some of its exclusive Star Wars, Marvel, and Pixar content.
Movies & TV

The 7 best TV episodes you can watch on YouTube for free

TV networks have made a habit of putting episodes from popular series on YouTube for free. From premium platforms like Showtime to experimental newcomers like Viceland, we compiled a few of the best episodes available on YouTube.
Movies & TV

After Avengers: Endgame, what’s next for the Marvel Cinematic Universe?

Here's what we know so far about the Marvel Cinematic Universe after Avengers: Endgame, from rumors and speculation about Phase 4 of the MCU to confirmed facts, films, and television shows.
Movies & TV

Did I really watch that? Here's how to delete your Netflix viewing history

Everybody has some skeletons in their streaming closet, but you don't have to live with them if you don't want to. Learning how to delete your Netflix viewing history is easy, and we're here to help.
Home Theater

What’s new on Amazon Prime Video and what’s leaving in May 2019

Amazon Prime Video adds new titles each month that are available for free to all Prime members. Check out our list to find all the content hitting Amazon Prime Video in April and May, from new original series to classic films.
Home Theater

What’s new on Hulu in May 2019, and what’s leaving soon

Our complete list of what's new on Hulu for May 2019, our personal favorites, and which titles will be removed will help you catch up on all the site has to offer -- and ensure you don't miss any titles heading into the streaming ether.
Movies & TV

Final X-Men: Dark Phoenix trailer sends Marvel’s mutants into space

20th Century Fox has released a new trailer for X-Men: Dark Phoenix, which puts the spotlight on Game of Thrones actress Sophie Turner as the powerful, telepathic mutant Jean Grey.
Movies & TV

The best Black Mirror episodes are disturbing, mesmerizing, and provocative

After watching all 19 episodes across four seasons and one movie, we selected and ranked the best Black Mirror episodes released so far. Read on to find out if your favorite episode from the award-winning Netflix series made the list.
Movies & TV

From comedies to biopics, these are the best movies about music and musicians

The best movies about music range from hilarious comedies to powerful and informative biopics that illuminate the world of sonic expression from all possible angles. Here are our current favorites.
Home Theater

Here's how to turn off subtitles on Netflix, no matter the device

Subtitles are great if you want or need them, but they can be a major headache if you’ve somehow turned them on by accident and can’t figure out how to get rid of them. Don't worry, it's not as complicated as it seems.