How much screen time is too much?
For most kids, summer means a break from school, and that can mean a lot of screen time – playing games on a phone or tablet, watching TV or movies or playing video games.
But how much screen time is too much for kids? The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommendations to help guide parents in determining the healthy amount of time children are spending looking at screens.
“If you have the TV on in the background, that’s not what’s causing problems,” says Dr. Kevin Dahlman, director of Aurora Children’s Health. “We want to avoid sitting a 12-month-old down in front of an iPad or an iPhone or the TV.”
The group recommends that:
- Children younger than 18 months have no screen time.
- Those age 18-24 months watch limited high-quality programming and parents watch with children to help children understand what they are watching.
- Children age 2 to 5 years be allowed to have up to an hour a day of high-quality programming, again with parents watching to help them apply what they are watching to their lives.
- Children age 6 and older have consistent limits on time spent using media and the types of media, ensuring that screen time doesn’t crowd out physical activity or quality sleep.
The group also recommends designating technology-free times, like during family dinners, as well as device-free locations, not allowing children to keep devices in their bedrooms, especially overnight.
Additionally, discussion should be ongoing regarding good online citizenship and online safety.
For infants and toddlers, hands-on exploration and interacting with parents and caregivers is the best way for them to learn, the AAP said.
“There’s a lot that we’re learning about the child’s developing brain,” Dahlman says. “One thing we’re learning about the developing brain at this age is that kids don’t understand that the screen is not talking back to them. It’s real in their minds.”
For preschoolers and young children, an hour per day is a guideline, Dr. Dahlman says.
“You don’t have to meet that hour – less is better. But we understand the society we live in,” he says. Any screen time for two- to four-year-olds should be high-quality, educational programming.
However, even at this age, children learn important skills like impulse control, task persistence and creative thinking through unstructured, social play, including parent-child interaction.
For older children, limiting screen time can be more difficult, but it is also important. School-age children and adolescents who have more screen time often struggle with obesity and poor-quality sleep. Use of social media can encourage risky behavior and can hurt mental health.
One of the best ways for parents to establish screen time limits for children is to set a good example, being sure to disconnect and engage with children, Dr. Dahlman says.
“We want to make sure that we’re interacting, that we have some protected times without technology,” he says.
About the Author
Heather Collier works in Advocate Aurora Health’s public affairs and marketing department. She is based in Milwaukee.