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November 2023

Upgrade Your Approach to Kids’ Screen Time

Today, more than 50% of kids touch their first screen while still wearing diapers. A reported 95% of teens have access to smartphones. But how much screen time should children be exposed to? To help answer this question, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) created a set of guidelines, and they offer these key points to guide parents.

For infants and toddlers

Kids younger than age 2 have trouble understanding what they see on screens. What’s more, plunking toddlers in front of a TV or tablet reduces chatter with other people that’s critical to brain development. Infants and young toddlers need hands-on exploration and social interaction to develop thinking, language, social, and emotional skills.

That said, a total ban isn’t necessary. Instead, limit media use and only allow your children to use screens with an adult to talk with them and to help them apply what they learn. Video chats with family and parents are a good example of appropriate media use for this age group.

High-quality, educational programming can be introduced around ages 18 to 24 months, the AAP 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.

For school-age children

Once kids are a bit older, educational TV and apps can help them learn, provided you choose wisely.

Still, kids at this age should spend some time offline. Unstructured play and social interactions are important for creativity and learning. Make a point to allow unplugged, unstructured playtime each day.

In addition, keep devices out of children’s bedrooms at night and stop all screen time at least an hour before bed. Discourage kids from watching TV or using other media while completing homework.

For teens

Allowing adolescents on social media can help them develop healthy habits, expose them to new ideas and information on current events, and give them access to support groups and communities. Teach your teen about appropriate online behavior. For instance, discuss treating others with respect online, practicing online safety, and avoiding cyberbullying and sexting.

Create profiles yourself, or ask teens to show you what they do online. That way, you’ll know what’s happening in their virtual world. Take action if you see signs of cyberbullying.

In addition, make sure that your teen’s media habits allow them to get enough exercise and sleep each day.

At all ages

Setting smart limits on media usage can prevent harms, from obesity to troubled sleep to problems at school and home.

One way to do it: Create a family media use plan. Together, draft a document that lays down basic rules. Consider:

  • No screens in bedrooms

  • Unplugged family mealtimes

  • A “media curfew” at least an hour before bedtime

  • Sticking to age-appropriate content, as determined by movie, game, and TV ratings

Model proper media use yourself. For instance, put your phone away during family dinners. Skip violent TV programs in favor of those that foster empathy, kindness, and tolerance.

Online Medical Reviewer: Ray Turley BSN, RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Rina Lazenbik, MD
Date Last Reviewed: 8/1/2023
© 2000-2024 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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