There are so many questions we have as parents. Most of us want to do the best we can to help our children develop into well-rounded, capable individuals.
One of the best things that we can do, believe it or not, is limit screen time for kids, and establish screen time outs.
It might sound counter-intuitive. What about those educational games you installed on the tablet? How can those be harming your kid? If videos and games that help your kid learn are so bad, why are there so many available?
There is a whole list of scientifically proven consequences associated with too much screen time.
These include having attention problems or lacking social skills. Additionally, your child could also develop a tendency towards obesity and associated health problems. Sleep issues and other behavior problems can also occur for kids that get a lot of screen time.
So, what is too much screen time for children?
Helpful Guidelines from The American Academy of Pediatrics
Fortunately, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) screen time recommendations are really helpful.
The AAP recommends that babies up to two years of age have no or extremely limited access to screens. Children ages 2 – 5 should get, at most, one hour a day. Screen time for kids 6 and up needs to be judged by ‘quality over ‘quantity’.
For the older kids, you will notice, they don’t recommend specific time limitations. It is, after all, a broad age range. They do, however, stress the need for parental involvement and constant guidance.
Let’s dig a little deeper into these recommendations. The AAP did not pull these recommendations out of thin air. They made them based on years worth of studies and hard science.
In this article, we want to help you understand the subtleties within the guidelines and how to best implement them in your home.
Screen Time for Babies, Birth to Age 2
The AAP strongly recommends no screen time for babies. They do make an exception to this rule, however. For the youngest of babies, the only beneficial screen-based activity is video chatting.
Why video chatting? The key concept is interaction.
Babies, at this stage of their development, are learning from every interaction with the people around them. If a baby sees a friend or relative on-screen, who actively engages with them, will they learn from the interaction.
Babies at the earliest stages of their development are not capable of learning from a screen. If you put a tablet in front of your infant, they might zone out with the moving pictures.
Later on, when your kid is around 18 months old, there is a noted change in the workings of their brain. At this age, they can understand abstract images on a screen and learn from them.
But that doesn’t exactly mean you should hand your baby the tablet. If you choose to allow your baby to interact with digital media at this point, accompany them.
Sit with your baby, watch the video with them and talk to them about what they are seeing. Reinforce whatever lessons they should be learning. Be sure to keep the screen time to about half an hour, max.
Remember, your child’s successful development at this age depends on their interaction with you.
Screen Time for Toddlers and Young Children, Ages 2 – 5
For children ages 2 – 5, the AAP suggests limiting screen time to one hour a day, at most.
At this stage, it is tempting to leave our kids entertaining themselves in front of a screen, while we try to get something done. We are all guilty of doing it.
Unfortunately, it is a bad idea when it comes to giving your kid the best head start in life.
Developmentally speaking, children this age can benefit from educational games, videos, and TV programming.
But for your kid to benefit from screen time, you have to be highly selective of the media they will be consuming. Take a good look at every app, video or TV show and ask yourself if they are educational and how.
Be sure to avoid programs that portray violence. The AAP has found that even cartoon violence can lead to social and behavior issues.
And again, avoid leaving your kid unattended while they interact with their screen. Don’t forget that they will get the most educational value out of it if you are there interacting with them while they play their game or watch their videos.
Ask them about what they are seeing. Ask them what they are learning! Having conversations with your young kid is the best way to reinforce any lessons they may learn from a screen.
Screen Time for Kids Ages 6 and up
At this point, limiting screen time for kids has more to do with monitoring the quality and value of what the child is doing. The American Academy of Pediatrics screen time recommendations do not issue strict time restrictive guidelines for this age group.
But remember, this is a big group with diverse developmental capabilities and needs.
Your 6-year-old should not have an “all you can handle” diet of screen time. Neither should your 16-year-old. The key to limiting screen time for this age is to set clear boundaries and expectations. These should evolve along with the needs of each child.
Here are some tips to consider when setting screen time expectations with your school-aged child:
- Continue to track the media that your child is consuming. Review and screen the different apps that they wish to use. Look into the movies or programs they want to watch. Continue to avoid and limit exposure to violence.
- Do not feel pressured to give your kids access to technology! If you are not comfortable that your child has a tablet or a smartphone, then do not give them one. The argument that they need to learn how to use technology is not valid. Remember, limiting their screen time is not the same as limiting their learning.
- Continue to converse with your kids about what media they are consuming. Talk to them about the programs they are watching or the games they are playing. Don’t forget, your interest in what your children are doing supports them in their social and emotional development.
- Help your children develop healthy habits that integrate screen time into their routine. This includes activities like research and homework. It can also include reading ebooks or using social media. Some kids develop creative hobbies that include the use of technology. It is important to support them in their needs and interests while helping them learn to balance screen time on their own.
- Set clear limits about specific “screen time outs” throughout the day. When is screen time not allowed? Here are some of the AAP recommendations:
- Do not allow screens at the table during meal times.
- Establish limits on how late a child has access to their screens. Technology should be “turned off” at least an hour or two before bedtime.
- Take the TV and computer out of their bedrooms, especially when they are young. This will help assure healthy sleep patterns.
We Know. It’s Not Easy
As parents, we have to juggle so much. Despite our best intentions, we can only do the best we can and that has to be enough. Sometimes, for our mental health, we need our kids to watch a movie for a while. We have all been there. Remember, just do the best you can.
If you take anything away from this article, let it be these tips:
- You are the best educational tool your kid has. Interact with them as much as possible from the day they are born. You cannot be replaced by a screen.
- Make sure your kid gets enough physical activity. If you need some quiet time, instead of sitting your kid in front of a screen, send them outside.
- Make sure the multimedia entertainment your kid sees is of high quality. Be picky and have high expectations.
- Be aware of your own screen time! You are the main example your kid will see. Put your phone down. Turn off the TV if you are not watching it. Take your TV out of your bedroom. Live by the same rules you want your kids to abide by. Take screen time outs for yourself!