young girl watching a screen

Surprisingly, Steve Jobs — a man pretty much universally considered to be a modern tech genius — was a low-tech parent. According to a recent New York Times article (see the original piece here), the Jobs children had strict limits on their technology use. And Jobs was not alone — the Times’s Nick Bilton reports that many tech giants have also told him that they severely limit the time their children spend with gadgets. Among the rules that these high-tech parents set for their low-tech children are:

No gadgets during the week
Time limits on weekends
Weekday computer use limited to homework
No social media use
No screens in the bedroom — ever

To most of the world’s tweens and teens, these rules probably seem draconian — dictates handed down from a Medieval era before high speed internet and data plans. To parents who work in the tech industry, they often seem like perfectly reasonable preventative measures to avoid the many pitfalls of screen time.

According to the National Institutes of Health, most American children spend around 3 hours per day watching TV, and an additional 2-4 hours per day on other devices. Interestingly, in 2001, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommended that children have no more than 2 hours of non-school-related screen time per day, well under half the amount that the average child currently watches.

What’s the big concern about screen time? According to AAP, screen time overload can contribute to poor cardiovascular fitness, increased risk of obesity, type II diabetes, hypertension, and asthma. And that’s just the purely physical side. The Mayo Clinic goes further to point out that excess screen time can result in poor sleep, behavioral problems, and poor academic performance.

Perhaps Steve Jobs was onto something.

To be fair to our beloved screens, there are some benefits to moderate screen time. A 2013 Forbes article examined the potential benefits of screen time and found that, as with most things in life, the good and bad of screen time depends on how, how often, and why screens are used. For instance, researchers in the 1980s found that children learned more from Sesame street when they viewed the show alongside their parents. Additionally, many computer and video games can teach valuable skills, from the physical (such as hand-eye coordination) to the mental (such as problem solving).

Plenty of research points to the dangers of over-indulging in screen time — but then, there are dangers in over-indulging in just about anything. The key is moderation.