09/19/2014 05:52 pm ET Updated Nov 19, 2014

Decoding the 'Screen Time' Paradox

One of the many challenges faced by the digital parent today is the question of how much screen time is good, or not good, for our kids. The American Academy of Pediatrics says the average kid spends seven hours a day across television, computers, tablets and smartphones. It also recommends that parents should try to limit screen time to two hours a day at most. Critics of such one-size-fits-all studies argue that not all screen time is the same.

"The idea of telling my kid he can only have one to two hours of computer time a day makes me laugh. Seriously?" argues Dresden Shumaker, a writer and parent who makes some valid counterpoints. "When it comes to screens, time isn't what needs to be monitored. What needs monitoring is content and how involved we are."

Now consider this. According to a review of research on the positive effects of video game play published by the American Psychological Association, playing video games, including violent shooter games, may boost children's learning, health and social skills. Go figure!

Dr. Victoria Dunkley, a child psychologist cites brain scan research studies on screen time that show clear negative effects of what she calls electronic screen syndrome.

Excessive screen-time appears to impair brain structure and function. Much of the damage occurs in the brain's frontal lobe, which undergoes massive changes from puberty until the mid-twenties. Frontal lobe development, in turn, largely determines success in every area of life--from sense of well-being to academic or career success to relationship skills.

Confounded by the conflicting studies and recommendations seemingly at loggerheads? At this point, it is better to tread with caution and limit screen time to the recommended two hours a day, especially in the primary ages, and carefully evaluate the quality of screen time at older ages.