Screen Time and Child Development – Limiting Screen Time for Kids

Screen Time and Child Development – Limiting Screen Time for Kids

Limiting Screen Time for Kids is a Challenge

“Screen Time” is defined as the time your child spends in front of any screen (tv, tablet, smartphone, computer, or video game consoles) per day.

The average screen time for children ranges between 3-7 hours daily, with teenagers on the higher end in the US. 

The average child spends 3-7 hours every day on their phone, tablet, or computer. Teens spend even more time in front of screens, damaging the body’s natural sleep and growth cycles.

The latest research from Stanford University shows that teenagers are spending an outrageous 7+ hours a day glued to electronics. This has been linked with all sorts of health problems, including depression and social issues like bullying among peers.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents of children 18 months and younger avoid screens, with the exception of video chatting with family. For preschoolers ages 2-5, limit use to one hour a day for high-quality programmings like Sesame Street or PBS Kids.


Screen Time and Child Development

The harmful effects of electronics are common knowledge for parents, but the extent to which these screens can have a negative impact on children was not clear until recently. With more than one thousand research studies backing up its claims, today, it is abundantly clear that screen time has many adverse health impacts on kids, from toddlers to adolescents.

We know that children with excessive screen time are at a significantly higher risk of developing obesity, even at a young age, unhealthy eating habits, behavioral problems, weaker social skills, easy frustration, sleep deprivation, and lower academic performance.

Social media is taking a toll on society, and especially the youth. More children are growing up with anxiety than ever before because of constant bombardment from social media posts–these kids even have to deal with adults in their lives who use these platforms as well!

Parent Playbook Blog - screen time

Social Media Puts Children at Risk for AnxietyA recent survey revealed that Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram all lead to increased feelings of depression, anxiety, poor body image, and loneliness in children.

Screen Time Is Linked To Sleep Disturbances in children.


Screen Time Recommendations

The American Academy of Pediatrics screen time recommendations are no screen time for kids below two years and consume a maximum of 2 hours of “quality” screen time for kids older than 2.

This can pose a considerable challenge for children and families.

Many children (and adults alike) are used to spending many hours in front of a screen each day. Though it may be difficult, with patience and some practical strategies, we can help our kids managing their screen time more reasonably.

Parent Playbook Blog - screen time

Watching children closely is important due to their young age. Of course, they should have limited screen time because they are developing so quickly and need interaction with people the most, but if you do allow it, make sure that there is high-quality educational content being watched with your child to teach through these shows successfully.

Limit total exposure of TV/tablets/computers to under an hour a day!


Limiting Screen Time for Kids

1. Be an example:

Our kids are little sponges and model what we do. Many parents and family members are addicted to devices such as smartphones.

With the advent of smartphones and tablets, it’s hard for parents to enforce their children’s screen time. It’s difficult enough already when your child can see you on your phone all day. To make this process easier, try leaving your device out of reach most of the time while at home and ignore them during mealtime or family activities; after all, they’re watching what you do too.


2. Create awareness with your kids:

Young Children often understand if we explain why it is dangerous to indulge in so much screen time. Choose age-appropriate words. Let them share in making decisions and creating expectations when playing with video games, television viewing, and media.


3. Talk to your partner:

Consistency is critical when it comes to parenting. All caregivers must follow the same rules and be consistent.

When caregivers are on the same page, the messages you send your child are clear and consistent. As a result, there are less confusion and more predictability.


4. Ban screens during family time:

No screens are allowed during mealtime and family time. If you don’t currently have screen-free family time – now it’s the perfect opportunity to try! First, create a limit by agreeing with your kids on how much screen usage is appropriate for them at home, then establish that this rule applies even when they’re not in their rooms.

Parent Playbook Blog - screen time

It is a terrible idea to have a television or other screened devices in your child’s bedroom. Instead, keep the television in a common area where the whole family can sit, see and talk to each other.

This way, you can minimize the use and, importantly, be aware of what they are watching and when.


6. Provide fun alternatives:

If your child has fun and entertaining alternatives, they will not miss the screen as much. Consider the types of activities they like to do, be it sports or art or puzzles or games: play outdoors, where there are endless, accessible opportunities to have fun.

Some tips would be for your young children to look for worms, make an obstacle course, play tag, or catch butterflies. They need an interest that is away from a screen.

During the Covid 19 pandemic, many children turned to media use instead of activities.


7. Don’t get their own:

If you can, I strongly recommend kids don’t have their device before they are at least double digits in age (ten +). I didn’t have my first cell phone till I was in grade 12! They don’t NEED to text you or their friends. However, they can use a phone to call a friend if they want.

Social media is a scary place for kids too… If you can’t police what content they are consuming, you may not be aware of what they see, who they are interacting with and what they are being advertised.

There are many predators online, and more commonly, many companies and advertisers targeting children for financial gain.


8. Don’t use the screen as a tool:

Parents often try to calm their baby or toddler by giving them a screen, which can have disastrous effects. If children learn that poor behavior will lead to rewards with screens, they’ll be more likely to do it again in the future. Don’t use your phone as a pacifier for cranky babies! Children who are given phones may later behave badly because of rewards from parents when tantrums turn into bad behaviors…


9. Minimize Options

Keep screens out of view with less temptation. Review what applications are available to your child on the screen to ensure they are age-appropriate. Consider deleting streaming applications (see note seven above).


10. Use positive reinforcement:

No more screens? No problem! The great thing about kids is that they are so easy to please. Instead of giving your child extra screen time, try rewarding them with a sticker or special treat every day. You don’t let the TV babysit and have some old-fashioned fun together instead.


11. Make fixed house rules and follow them:

Remember, consistency, predictability, and routine are essential. So be clear and consistent—for example, only 1 hour of the screen a day, not within 2 hours of bedtime. Or, the only screen on Sunday. Make a plan and stick to it.


12. Screen-free playdates:

It’s important to give your kids the opportunity for outdoor play. Encourage screen-free time by having quality and social playtime that includes problem-solving, hand-eye skills, and exercising… Getting creative with it is helpful, too, so try painting or even playing in a sandbox.

The benefits of engaging in an activity outside are endless – you get some fresh air while also getting exercise and strengthening those little muscles needed for childhood development like fine motor control and coordination.


13. Use technology to your advantage:

Many software options help limit a child’s screen time by locking the device after a set time you program. Just google “apps limiting screen time.” There are plenty of them. Circle by Disney is a popular one.

Have you heard the stories that Steve Jobs (Apple co-founder) did not let his kids use screened devices such as iPads and had rules limiting how much his kids consumed screens?

If we are aware of our kids’ (and our own) screen time, we will give them a better chance to achieve their full potential for an active, happier, and healthier childhood!


Media Use in the United States Effects on Motor Skills in Young Children

Studies have found that excessive screen use can lead to lower motor skills and increased physical inactivity.

A recent study by the American Academy of Pediatrics showed this is especially true of children with prolonged exposure, meaning they spend more than two hours a day on screens at home or other locations such as schools, childcare centers, after-school programs, or libraries.

Children spend an average of 150 minutes per day staring at a screen. However, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently released data about the amount and duration children spend looking at screens, revealing some troubling results.

The study found that by age 12 months, children were averaging just 53 minutes on their devices each day, but as they grew older to 3 years old, it soared up to more than 150 minutes!




Does screen exposure help with language development in Children?

The bottom line is that screen time does not promote your child’s language development. Newer research has shown this to be true even for infants, who should have no screen time at all, and while two- to five-year-olds can use devices in minimal amounts of time – there are still important limitations on how much they’re allowed.


What is common sense media?

Common Sense Media is a company that aims to provide families with education about and advocacy for the safety of children while using technology. They work hard to provide educational materials, organize events, and share blogs on their website so children can stay informed through all steps in becoming safe online users.


What does the American Academy of Pediatrics suggest?

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines -less than an hour a day of screen time ages 2-5, and no screens until 18 months or older to help avoid potential negative effects in a child.


Are poor developmental screening tests linked to increased screen time in the United States?

Doctors warn that excessive screen time can impinge on children’s development and advice parents to limit their kids’ exposure.



Dr. Dina Kulik, Parent Playbook


Author, Dr. Dina Kulik

Author, Dr. Dina Kulik

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