Children's screen time on digital devices - how much is too much?

How much time do your kids spend in front of a screen, that could be a television, a smartphone, tablet or video game. How much is too much?

A new documentary called "Web Junkie" and it takes viewers inside a Chinese rehab center in Beijing. It is where teenagers are being locked up behind bars to curb their internet addiction.

The Chinese government is the first to declare internet addiction a clinical disorder. 

There isn't an official diagnosis in this country, but Beaumont Children's Pediatrician Rita Patel says there is an addiction danger.

"I definitely have seen patients that have become withdrawn from friends and activities," she said. "Because that becomes their main priority and that's what they spend their day doing, I've infidelity seen patients with overuse of internet, that becomes the center of their lives." 

According to a 2010 study conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation in 2010, on average 8- to 10-year-old spend about eight hours a day using digital devices and many teens reach over 11 hours of screen time a day.

"They do an hour here and an hour there," Patel said. " and all of the sudden it's six hours a day, I don't think parents realize how much time their kids are spending."

With so many kids spending so much time in front of a screen, how do you know when it's become a problem?

"Your child becomes withdrawn, doesn't want to be with friends, doesn't want to do activities, doesn't want to do sports," Patel said.

And the problem might not be what your child is doing in the virtual world, but what that child isn't doing in the real world. 
  
"All this time they spend on a screen is time they're not spending doing something else, being active and learning skills that are important to socialization." Patel said.

The documentary reveals China's controversial and extreme treatment of internet addicted kids. The American Academy of Pediatrics says  young kids should have no more than two hours of screen time a day. 

Patel says to all of us, at any age, stop filling all the free time with electronics. 

"You as a parent can't make your child creative or imaginative," Patel said. "But you can create a setting where they're able to do that. Let them be bored, when they have nothing to do that's when they do creative things."

Patel says to create a electronics contract with your child, make sure the limits are clear. Also you can make blanket rules, no electronics in the kitchen, no electronics after 10 p.m. 

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