Fort Worth, Texas,
09:04 AM

Technology can be such a headache

Why parents should limit their child’s screen time

 By the very nature of her day-to-day life, Cynthia Keator, M.D., a pediatric neurologist at Cook Children’s, spends a good portion of her day working on a computer screen, whether it be working on medical records or reading electroencephalograms. As many of us do, including her patients, she often develops headaches.

Still, Dr Keator takes precautions.

She states, “I suffer from migraines, as due several of my colleagues. Most migraine sufferers have busy lifestyles, and a main trigger is fatigue. Therefore, what I tell my patients and also practice myself: exercise regularly, stay well hydrated, eat well and get adequate sleep. Another very important recommendation is to limit time on electronic devices. I do my best to minimize migraines and headaches by taking frequent computer breaks.”

Most professional and educational activities are spent on some sort of electronic device, and in today’s world, introduction to electronic devices starts at a very young age. Media is everywhere and it is competing for children’s attention.

Statistically speaking, over 75 percent of children have some degree of hand-held or electronic devices. A great portion of the child’s day is spent on these devices, which by default, take away from other activities. Headaches and/or migraines in children can be exacerbated or increased due to spending excess time using electronic devices: watching TV, video games, texting, playing on tablets, etc.

The concern is that the time spent (and the content) on the devices may interfere with other regular childhood activities and natural sleep/wake cycle, especially when used in excess. Dr Keator states, that when children use electronic devices in excess, this leads to interruption in sleep which will lead to fatigue, and for many children it can lead to headaches/migraines. It can also lead to attention problems, school difficulties, eating disorders and obesity. Prolonged time spent on electronic devices interrupts other activities: homework, dinner time, family time, exercise, and sleep.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting or completely eliminating screen time for children under the age of 2 years. Then as children get older, media is slowly introduced. For children age 3-5 years, limit to 30-60 minutes; children age 6-9 years 60-120 minutes a day; and for older children over 120 minutes is allowed.

But let’s be realistic; these time limits no longer fit in our current world of technology.

“Technology is here and electronic devices are a multi-billion dollar industry and it is not going anywhere,” Dr Keator states. “In neurology, our recommendation is time limits. The younger you are, the less time that is allowed. However, everyone needs breaks regardless of the age. Try to limit time on electronic devices to 15-30 minute increments followed by breaks. During the breaks, I recommend doing something outside, spending time with friends or family, or just resting; then resume activity on the particular device.”

Dr Keator does acknowledge that many schools are incorporating computers or touch screens into the academic curriculum. For children who are migraine or headache suffers, she recommends getting up and relaxing the eyes and giving the brain time to rest.

“It’s a balance,” she emphasizes. Parents and teachers have to work on positive media/electronic use with time limits and breaks. Media/electronic devices should not be in the bedroom and this includes smart phones. Make dedicated family time without electronics. When electronics are used, make sure it is monitored and make it educational as much as possible.

More about Dr. Keator

Dr. Cynthia Keator joined Cook Children's Neurosciences in July 2012. She is board-certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology with special qualifications in Child Neurology and sub-specializes in pediatric epilepsy. A good portion of her clinical practice in spent in the Epilepsy Monitoring Unit at Cook Children's Medical Center where she diagnoses and treats patients with epilepsy

Dr. Keator is a native of Fort Worth where she was raised and attended Trinity Valley School for 13 years. Uniquely, she volunteered at Cook Children's when she was in high school. "I can truly say that it was my volunteer experience that attracted me to pediatrics andCook Children's. Now having finished my training, it was an easy decision to choose Cook Children's". Dr. Keator completed her undergraduate training at Texas A&M University and then obtained her medical degree at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.

Dr. Keator's husband is also a native of Texas. They live in Fort Worth with their German Shepherd. Dr. Keator enjoys spending time with her family who still reside in the DFW area.

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Holly Denton Swanson
Enjoyed your article, Dr. Keator. I could not agree more with your recommendations.