Screen Time for Kids: How Much is Too Much?

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Three children playing with electronic devices

Screen time for kids is a hot topic these days. Access to screen time increases as technology improves and becomes more readily available. Kids are surrounded by screens, from tablets to televisions to phones. You can’t easily escape the reach of screen time. As a parent, however,  you likely try and limit it the best way you know how.

Raising kids can be full of challenges. Whether you’re concerned about their physical health, academic performance, emotional well-being, or social skills, your kids’ needs are your priority. Being a parent means always doing your best to navigate through the ups and downs thrown your way and giving your kids the best life possible.

When it comes to screen time for kids, you may be unsure of how to tackle the subject. Avoiding it all together may seem like your first instinct, but it might not be practical.

The bottom line is that in the end, you’ll develop a solution that fits your family just right. Like other concerns you have with parenting, limiting screen time is a subject that you will have to address at some point. Being aware of the positive and negative aspects of screen time will help you to evaluate what’s right for your children.

Siblings using technologies against parents relaxing on sofa

What is Considered Screen Time?

Screen time consists of any amount of time your child spends watching videos, playing video games, or using a phone, tablet, or computer. Even the instances when you pass your kiddo your phone to entertain them for a few minutes while waiting at the doctor’s office or while you attend an important meeting count. Time on screens can add up quickly when you think about all of the different times throughout the day your kid uses an electronic device.

Potential Benefits of Screen Time

Depending on your personal opinion of screen time for kids, you may or may not realize there are a few benefits of allowing your kids to participate. Truly educational apps and programs can benefit your children by supporting learning. Kids can pick up essential skills from watching quality educational programming or playing interactive learning games on a device.

Another benefit is more specifically for parents. Parents often use screen time for occupying their children during waiting periods, road trips, or appointments. Allowing children to have screen time while you make an important phone call or to entertain them while at an appointment can help avoid meltdowns and minimize distractions. Most parents find themselves needing an aid such as an electronic device when dealing with these instances.

If you find yourself needing to use screen time to keep your child busy, consider choosing a valuable educational video or game to play. Their screen time will serve two purposes: providing learning as well as quiet time for mom or dad to accomplish a brief task or engagement.

Toddler using tablet to watch videos while eating a snack

Disadvantages of Screen Time for Kids

Screen time for kids can be detrimental in several areas. Too much screen time can lead to issues with social, behavioral, and emotional development. Extended screen time can negatively impact toddlers and cause difficulty controlling emotions. Too much screen time can also compromise how kids communicate and interact with each other and other adults.

Increased screen time can also lead to an inactive lifestyle and also disrupt sleeping patterns. Many of these concerns will affect children in later years as well. The screen time habit can be hard to break as kids grow older. The long term effects of screen time for toddlers and young children can reach into teen years and even adulthood.

How Much Screen Time is Appropriate?

You might be considering how much screen time is appropriate for your kiddos. Whether you’re wondering if including your toddler for family movie night is acceptable or if just an hour a day for your five year old will be alright while you tidy up the house, determining the right amount of screen time is important.

Depending on your child’s age, there are different guidelines for screen time. The American Academy of Pediatrics offers the following recommendations:

  • Birth to eighteen months: no screen time
  • Eighteen months to twenty-four months: introduce quality programming that you can watch with your baby to ensure they are understanding what they are viewing.
  • Two to four years old: Limit screen time to one hour per day. Watch with your child to ensure they understand what they see, and discuss with them how it relates to the world around them.
  • Ages six and older: Provide consistent limitations on screen time of any type. Ensure that screen time is not inhibiting sleep, physical activity, or other healthy behaviors. Address potential issues regarding online media and your expectations. Designate device free family times such as meals, homework, and family time.

Smiling girl typing message on mobile phone at night

Create a Family Media Plan

The American Academy of Pediatrics offers a useful tool for monitoring screen time for your children. A Family Media Plan is available online for you to customize for each of your kids. With this plan, you can indicate media free zones within your home, establish appropriate time frames for use, and indicate what time electronics must be turned in for the night to charge.

A Family Media Plan will help keep everyone accountable and will create clear and straightforward expectations for the kids in your family, regardless of their age. This tool is helpful for both children and adults and allows for consistency and clarity.

Choose the Amount of Screen Time That Fits Your Family

Each and every family is different. Different needs, values, and expectations will shape how much screen time you decide to allow for each of your children. Ensuring your children don’t indulge in too much screen time and have access to high-quality, educational content is an ideal way to set boundaries when it comes to digital media.

Awareness of the potential drawbacks of screen time for kids will help you make the best decision for your children. Reviewing recommendations and learning about screen time for kids will enable you to set the limits you feel are necessary in your home. Have some fun selecting the right programs and apps for your kiddos, and take some time to enjoy it with them.

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