By John Lauritsen

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Any parent will tell you that sometimes, the best babysitter is a smartphone or tablet. But screen time adds up fast — so how much is too much? And how do you get your child off their favorite show once they’re locked in?

Spring-time for the Lauritsen kids means soccer and T-ball, but if they absolutely have to be inside, it’s Barbies and dinosaurs.

And it’s all fun and games until “someone” brings out an iPad.

“Sometimes I’ll go like this. [CLAP] Can you hear me? [CLAP] Can you hear me? Hello? Nothing. It’s like trying to get the attention of a wall,” said Jessie Lauritsen.

And according to Dr. Molly Martyn, it’s a common reaction to not get a reaction.

“Kids are watching media closer to their face, watching media more frequently and often times involved in media in a way that is less transparent to their families,” said Martyn, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of MN.

Martyn said long-gone are the days of Saturday morning cartoons. When the shows were over, off went the TV.

“Now parents wake up and fight the media battle, the screen battle all day long,” Martyn said.

“The majority of what they watch is on Netflix. Each has their own account that shows shows that for their age,” said Jessie. “The more time they spend on these iPads, the more crabby they become.”

Doctors say, like adults, kids can become addicted and even possessive over their favorite shows, and they have a tendency to act out what they watch. And while our parents used to warn us about not sitting too close to the TV, kids these days are mere inches from tablets and phones.

“It’s a relatively new phenomenon, again within the past five to 10 years, so something that we’ll be looking at long-term is what this means for their vision as they grow older,” said Dr. Martyn.

“That’s a very scary thought and that’s why they have rules. And they only watch them when we let them and that’s usually weekends and only for a little bit,” said Jessie.

It’s already known that prolonged use can lead to dry eyes and blurred vision in kids. That is why the Center for Disease Control recently came out with new recommendations for anyone staring at a screen.

“For every 20 minutes you are looking at a screen, you take a 20-second break and look at an object 20 feet in the distance. This can help reduce eye strain. The Centers for Disease Control calls it the 20-20-20 rule,” Martyn said.

Martyn has other rules as well:

1. She says it’s a good idea to have media free times and zones where both kids and parents are off the iPads.

2. And she says all screens should be shut down at least an hour before bed time.

3. She also recommends no screens in the bedrooms so kids can’t isolate.

4. And kids over the age of 2 should have one hour or less of iPad entertainment per day.

The trick is trying to get them to check back into reality. For example, set a timer at home. And when the timer runs out, it’s best to have an activity or game ready to go, otherwise you can expect a little protest on your hands.

“It’s hard for kids to understand those limits and boundaries like we can as adults. So I see that again as part of our role as parents, as the adults, to help create those limits and minimize their exposure,” Martyn said.

Martyn recommends that all parents visit the website commonsensemedia.org. It’s a non-profit organization that rates TV shows and video games based on educational content.

The American Academy of Pediatrics also recently updated their recommendations for screen time for children.

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