There are all types of things to think about with your kids, and how much screen time they should have is one of them! A lot of research exists on the subject and new research is coming out all of the time, but it can be difficult to sift through.
When thinking about screen time for children, what is best depends on the age of the child and type of screen time. What’s also important is that children get stimulation from sources other than screens. Playtime and allowing them to use their imaginations allows for cognitive development! In these times, it can be hard to find balance with so many apps and TV shows available for kids! They can be kept occupied for hours! However, setting limits with screen time is necessary according to researchers.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) doesn’t recommend screen time for children between 18-24 months aside from video chatting, which would be something you might have them do with relatives. Between ages 2-5, it’s suggested they only get an hour a day, but to make sure that it’s high quality content. Common Sense Media is a good website to go to for age appropriate recommendations for all types of screen time, including apps, movies, and TV. One of the aspects that makes screen time high quality is co–viewing. Just like you would with books, it’s important to interact in the process! Ask questions about what’s going on and see what they understand from the content. Look for apps and TV shows that lends itself to this type of interaction and enhances a conversation. This will help your child develop skills beyond the screen time activity. This is important considering there is research showing that handheld screen time can cause some speech delays, primarily in relation to expressive speech. Interaction with your child, regardless of screen time or in real world situations, is always a way to help them improve their language skills, but the back and forth conversation is especially important with screens since the screen doesn’t respond to your child. Your own reactions and questions compensate for this.
The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) gives some guidance in the section on their website, Selecting Apps to Support Children’s Learning. These have to do with a range of ideas, such as whether an app can be individualized, language options, multiple player options, and how challenging it is. You want an app that is going to be worth the time and is created well to promote a good learning experience.
The AAP suggests a great way to create a Family Media Plan to follow. You’ll enter information about each family member. Because they don’t recommend media for those 18-24 months, there isn’t an option for this age category. Different age groups included are 18-24, 2-5, 6-12, and 13-18. Sections in the plan to consider:
- Screen Free Zones- Some are preset options, like the kitchen or bedroom, or you can add your own.
- Screen Free Time- When do your children need to do something else, such as homework?
- Device Curfews- When is the screen time cutoff for the day?
- Choose and Diversify Your Media- What type of screen time?
- Balancing Online and Off-line time- What other valuable activities can they be doing without a screen? Spending time together maybe?
- Manners Matter- Should you be on your phone when someone is trying to talk to you?
- Digital Citizenship- Don’t be a bully that hides behind a screen.
- Safety First- Know the dangers of being online.
- Sleep and Exercise
Once you make your selections from each of the sections or add your own content, you can print the plan out and share it with your family! A Spanish version is also available.
Screen time can be good, but always make sure kids are getting experiences outside of screen. It’s also important that kids are getting enough sleep, as healthychildren.org pointed out that 8-12 hours is usually needed for youth. The National Sleep Foundation notes in the article Screen Time and Insomnia: What it Means for Teens that lights from screens may suppress melatonin, which makes it harder to go to sleep. Lack of sleep can have negative consequences for overall development, making it important to restrict screen time with youth of all ages.
Remember, this doesn’t only apply to youth! Make sure you’re getting time without a screen as well! You are your child’s role model after all! Play outside, read books, have fun! Get out there and play with your kids! If they see you stepping away from the screen, it will be more appealing for them to do the same!
Growing Up Digital: Media Research Symposium (AAP)
Teens and Screens: How Much is OK? (LiveScience.com)
Screen Time in the Age of Coronavirus (Common Sense Media)
Screen Time and Children: How to Guide Your Child (Mayo Clinic)
Screen Time and Children (MedlinePlus)
Voices on the Future of Childhood: The Future of Digital Play (Joan Ganz Cooney Center)