With phones, TVs, and iPads all around, it might seem overwhelming to think about limiting your child’s screen time. How much TV is good for them? Should they be texting all day? Does educational content make a difference? You may be concerned about what’s become usual and what research says is best.
We know your time is limited, so here’s the quick scoop on screen time for kids.
While it can be tempting to allow your child screen time whenever they want it, there can be side effects. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, side effects of too much screen time include:
- sleeping problems
- poor self-image and body image issues
- reading fewer books
- spending less time outside
- lower grades in school
- struggling to maintain a moderate weight
- having a narrower scope of interests
- mood or attention disorders
With the potential risks in mind, you’re probably wondering how much screen time is fine and how much other children tend to get. While there are many opinions, most experts agree that less screen time is better, especially for infants and toddlers.
|Age range||American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry|
|under 2 years||not recommended||only educational programing with caregiver|
|2–5 years||1 hour or less||1 hour on weekdays|
3 hours on weekends
|6+ years||none given||encourage healthy usage and activities|
If you’re concerned that your child is getting more screen time than this, don’t feel alone. In today’s tech-heavy world, many children (and adults!) get much more screen time than recommended.
Is video chatting with relatives OK for young children?
Even for very young children, most recommendations allow for some screen time to video call. For example, calling grandparents who live far away or a parent who is out of town for work. This can be a great way for families to keep in touch over long distances.
However, 2018 research shows that children have a hard time understanding the experience without an adult on their end to model and explain. Make sure that someone is always holding the child and encouraging engagement during these calls.
For school aged children, here’s a quick look at the average amount of screen time experienced each day, according to the
|Age||8–10 years||11–14 years||15–18 years|
|Average daily hours spent in front of a screen||6 hours||9 hours||7.5 hours|
|Average amount of daily screen time spent watching TV||4 hours||5 hours||4.5 hours|
If screen time is occurring for longer than you think it should, you may want to consider the type of stimulation you’re offering your children. Are they being engaged with interactive shows and activities?
Keep reading for more tips about how to get the most out of screen time below.
Rainy days happen!
Don’t forget that average screen time is just that — an average. Sometimes your child may have a day that involves more screen time than usual. It’s OK if this happens every now and then. Sometimes they need a break just like we do.
Not sure where to start with screen limits and boundaries? It’s a great idea to open dialogue with your children about how social media and the online world make them feel.
Here are a few general rules and guidelines that may be useful:
- Use parental controls when necessary to limit the content younger children can watch.
- Work with older children and teens to set their own boundaries for healthy screen time.
- Turn off all screens a half hour to an hour before bedtime.
- Restrict electronic devices at the dinner table or during family activities.
- Chores, homework, and other activities may need to be completed first.
- Help them understand why less screen time can be healthier, mentally and physically.
- Be honest with them about how difficult this can be and praise their ability to follow through.
- Make sure the other caregivers in their life know about and agree with these boundaries.
It’s also important to understand how much socializing is done online nowadays. As children get older, they’ll need to know how to navigate the social norms that their generation is creating, many of which depend on social media and the virtual world.
If reducing screen time is stressful for your child, try to understand what they may feel they are missing out on and see if there are other ways to fill that need.
Don’t forget to model good screen time behavior yourself
If you find yourself having difficulty managing screen time as well, there are many free apps that let you monitor your usage and restrict access to apps that you feel take up too much of your time.
These apps can also be helpful tools for teens who are learning to create a good screen time balance for themselves.
Remember that not all screen time is equally beneficial. Playing educational computer games and video games offer benefits that passively scrolling through social media does not. Consider free and educational resources to keep the learning going during screen time.
To make the most out of your child’s screen time, you may want to:
- Preview the content yourself to make sure it’s appropriate.
- Encourage educational shows and programs without ads.
- Watch with your children and discuss what they are seeing.
- Limit time on social media.
- Talk about online privacy and safety with your children.
- Encourage and model technology use that fosters human connectivity and creativity.
Another fun alternative to screen time? Audiobooks and children’s podcasts! Ask your child what interests them and visit your local library to pick up some related listening or reading materials they can explore.
Check out these free educational resources
While there are potential downsides to the internet and the prevalence of screens in our lives, there is also a world of educational and entertaining content that you can enjoy alongside your children. Here are some examples to try:
- SciShow Kids creates a range of free videos on science experiments, the environment, and how all manner of things in the world work.
- Many museums, like the Smithsonian or the Field Museum, have their own YouTube channels where they share educational content. Lots of zoos, like the Houston Zoo, do as well.
- Khan Academy is a nonprofit that offers a variety of classes from experienced teachers to children anywhere in the world.
- PBS Kids Online brings all the imagination and fun that you remember from watching PBS as a kid into the 21st century.
- Most streaming services now offer great filters for children’s programming, as well as a selection of educational documentaries and programs.
- Organizations like CODE or games like Stencyl can get grade school aged kids started in learning to code games and websites.
- “The Ologies Podcast” can be a great way for older kids to get introduced to a wide array of scientific topics from experts in their field.
- Some video games require players to exercise as they play. These can be great motivational tools for children who are new to creating an exercise routine.
While there are some recommended guidelines, there’s no single perfect answer when it comes to how much screen time your children should have. The amount and type of screen time children are allowed varies from family to family. It can also vary from day to day and child to child.
If you’re going to limit screen time, you’ll want to make sure you’re on the same page as the other adults in your child’s life. You’ll also want to know what your child is watching and doing during their screen time.
Once parameters have been set, do your best to stick to them and encourage screen time as a way to continue your child’s education. Keep in mind that your own example of picking up a book or heading outside for a walk can go a long way in encouraging good habits.