How Much Screen Time Should Children be Exposed to?

September 1, 2018

Clinical Contributors to this Story

Paul V. Sunkavalli, M.D. contributes to topics such as Pediatrics, Parenting, .

Today, nearly 50 percent of kids touch their first screens while still wearing diapers. About three-fourths of teens have smartphones. But how much screen time should children be exposed to?

FOR INFANTS AND TODDLERS

Age 2 and younger remains too early to reap many benefits from technology. What’s more, plunking toddlers in front of a TV or tablet reduces conversation with parents that’s critical to brain development. That said, a total ban isn’t necessary, notes Paul Sunkavalli, M.D., a pediatrician with Southern Ocean Medical Center. “Instead, use screens for interaction and to enhance communication. For instance, video chats with a traveling parent can boost language development in very young children.”

High-quality educational programming can be introduced around 18 to 24 months, the American Academy of Pediatrics says. And up to age 5, these shows should be limited to one hour per day. “Parents should watch alongside their children to help them understand what they see,” Dr. Sunkavalli recommends.

FOR SCHOOL-AGE CHILDREN

Once they’re a bit older, kids can use educational TV and apps to help them learn, provided you choose them wisely. “Still, kids at this age should spend most of their time off-line,” says Dr. Sunkavalli. “Make a point to encourage unplugged, unstructured playtime each day. This type of play helps kids develop creativity.” Numerous studies have shown that children who spend most of their time in front of screens have increased hostility and decreased coping mechanisms and interpersonal skills.

FOR TEENS

Allowing adolescents on social media can help them develop and form their identities, but there are also many potential negative aspects. Teach your teen about appropriate online behavior. For instance, explain that sending suggestive messages or photos puts them at risk. Many predators use online platforms as their medium to identify susceptible children. Be familiar with the online platforms teens are using. That way, you’ll know what’s happening in their virtual world. Take action if you see signs of cyberbullying.

AT ALL AGES

Setting smart limits on media usage can prevent harms, from obesity to troubled sleep to problems at school and home. “My recommendation for all children is one hour of screen time on school days and two hours on weekends for recreational purposes,” says Dr. Sunkavalli.

One way to do it: Create a family media guideline together and lay down basic rules. Consider:

  • No screens in bedrooms
  • Unplugged family mealtimes
  • A media curfew before bedtime
  • Sticking to age-appropriate content, as determined by movie, game and TV ratings

Finally, model proper media use yourself. Dr. Sunkavalli says, “For instance, put your phone away during family dinners. And take advantage of digital tools to teach the same lessons and values you’ve always imparted to your kids. Skip violent TV programs in favor of those that foster empathy, kindness and tolerance. The number one uses for smartphones and tablets for adults and children are playing games and watching videos. We need to remember that children learn by example, so, together, let’s set a good one!”

The material provided through Health Hub is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.