The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) guidelines, state kids who are preschool-aged should have a one hour maximum of screen time per day, and kids younger shouldn't play on devices at all.
Instead of tech time, Elinor Brook, a social worker at Helping Hands School in Clifton Park, says kids should be having real-life experiences to learn and grow.
"When a child is passively engaged with an electronic device, they’re missing many, many opportunities," Brook said. "They’re missing opportunities to practice communicating, they’re missing opportunities to practice problem solving such as ‘Uh oh, this fell down, now I have to figure out how to put it back.’"
Brook says planning what your children are doing is key. Teaching kids behaviors, such as not using a device at a restaurant, is a good habit for adults and kids.
"And no one is wanting to shame parents, but they have to have the message that the screen time they expose their children to has an impact," Brook said.
That is why Sean Teehan says he and his wife keep their three and seven-year-olds on track when they get home from school. They get 20 minutes of screen time and a snack, then it's back to work.
"They know they have homework or something else after that," Teehan said. "So as long as you keep the structure, they don't argue very much."
But on the weekends, they have to get creative.
"What we do is just try to keep them engaged whether it's sports, whether it's a craft, just [to] make sure they're not bored," Teehan said.
Making sure the kids are engaged is the key, and the family has a desktop computer for the kids to do homework, rather than a laptop.
"I think boredom leads to the screen time need. If they're engag[ing] in something or learning something, or challenging themselves, then they don't feel they need to sit down and watch the tablet or watch the TV," Teehan said.
Early results from a recent study by the National Institutes of Health shows kids with seven or more hours of screen time a day, actually have physical differences in their brains. There was premature thinning of the cerebral cortex, something that usually happens much later on in kids' lives.
Another study in Europe found a high rate of children being misdiagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The study found when devices were taken away for a short period of time, usually about a month, the developmental delays either significantly decreased or disappeared altogether.
"There are children with autism who need special services and need supports," Brook said. "This is not to say that those children’s difficulties were caused by a screen."
But as much as the world relies on tech, experts say to pay attention to how much time your kids are spending on devices.
"There may be a time where using an electronic device to teach a certain skill could come in handy, but I can’t think of a single time that would be required for learning," Brook said.
Assuming there are no other diagnosed developmental delays, early warning signs of "virtual autism" include having trouble playing with toys that are age-appropriate, having trouble finding words to complete thoughts or solve problems, and even acting out or throwing tantrums beyond what's typical for their age.
The NIH is continuing its $300 million landmark research project on screen time and plans share the results later this year.