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Tablet Time: How Much Is Too Much Screen Time For Your Child?

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) - Let's talk about "tablet time" - better known as the time your child spends on an electronic device.

Is it recreation, learning, or babysitting?

That's a hot-button topic with parents and caregivers.

It's also a tough issue because there are those who are anti-tablet and those who see it as an important part of their child's life and their own.

Let's meet Oliver, he's 2 and a half.

"He has his own, individual tablet and he will ask for phones sometimes," said Kim Osheskie, Oliver's mother.

She thinks about Oliver's electronic time a lot.

"I didn't want all of him to be a tablet baby but just it is what it is at this point," she said.

Allegheny Health Network child psychologist Dr. Anthony Mannarino says tablet time is okay but…

"I think definitely parents have to limit the time because the electronics are so engaging, right? The noises, the colors, the animation, little kids just love it," he said. "If you don't set limits on it, they'll just stay on those tablets indefinitely."

"I don't want to have him on it so much that it does hinder any type of development for him," Osheskie said. "I do want him to be exposed to everything because he's going to be exposed to it anyway."

"I don't disagree with that at all," Dr. Mannarino adds. "I think they do need to become competent in using electronic devices. The question is, can we find a balance with their competence on the devices, plus also interacting in person with other people, reading and other activities that are fun, in addition to the electronics?"

Part of the problem, and Osheskie brought this up, is children see us on our devices and want to do the same so someone has to establish limits.

It's really not optional, and depending on the age of the child, older kids can stay on their electronics longer.

However, that is a point of controversy between spouses and caregivers.

Is the electronic device being used as a pseudo babysitter?

Osheskie said she saw an example of this, especially in restaurants, before she had Oliver.

"I used to see parents come in and just plop the tablet in front of their kids just to distract them so that they could sit and enjoy a nice meal," she recalled.

Dr. Mannarino said that screen time must be managed.

"If a child is on the tablet for 15 minutes while they're waiting for dinner, and I don't think that's a big deal," he said. "I think what happens is that they're on the tablet for the entire meal while the parents are eating, and then 15 minutes turns into an hour or more and then I think that's a concern."

That's something Osheskie thinks of a lot and works on.

"We try to limit as much time on it as possible," she said. "He has a playroom and it's loaded with all sorts of toys. I try to entice him into anything else and I'm usually pretty good at it."

All that said, there are times when the tablet or electronic device is convenient.

"When we have other things that we need to do, cooking, cleaning, it really is just easier to give it to him," she added.

Dr. Mannarino agrees.

"I appreciate that and that parents have chores and other things to do, having a child use a tablet for 30 minutes or 45 minutes, that's fine," he said.

There are also some places to avoid giving a child an electronic device.

"We don't give it to him in the car, things like that," Osheskie said. "We try not to give it to him in his bedroom at all."

Dr. Mannarino is on the same page, especially when it comes to bedtime.

"That blue light can make it more problematic for kids to fall asleep, so I advise parents an hour or more before bedtime, all electronics should be off," he explained. "That's true for older kids, too."

That lack of sleep can end with a grouchy child in the morning who can't concentrate at school, according to Dr. Mannarino. He also said to avoid table time at the family dinner table which is when the family should be interacting and doing a check-in on everyone's day.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says no screens for kids under 2-years-old, 15-30 minutes max for those under five, and a gradual increase as kids get older, but still limit for older kids.

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