How Much Screen Time is Too Much?
The 2020 pandemic has parents everywhere wondering….
How much screen time is too much? Can screen time be harmful to my child?
The parks are all closed; play dates are cancelled; and it’s too hot to play outside. Looks like it’s time to watch a movie…again.
We’ve all been there. Even in our pre-COVID lives, parents sometimes just need a few minutes to cook, clean, or even take a shower. These are usually the times when we throw on a TV show or pull up Minecraft to give ourselves a few minutes of peace and quiet.
We know it’s unreasonable to suggest that you throw out all electronic devices, but how much screen time is too much? What about screen time for toddlers? Screentime with the nanny? And how do you enforce screen time limits when your 10-year-old is doing virtual school?
Read on for the recommendations by doctors and other parents on what is an appropriate amount of screen time for kids of any age.
Screen Time For Infants
The official recommendation is that any amount of screen time for babies is too much.
At this time in their development, babies learn at an incredible rate. By the time your child is three years old, their brain is roughly 80% of the size it will be when they’re a fully grown adult!
It’s normal to want to take advantage of this unique stage in your baby’s development, but babies simply do not learn as well from screens (despite what was promised in the Facebook ad for that learning app). Baby’s brains cannot process the information on the screen as “data,” but rather are just enamored by the colors and moving images.
Babies take their social cues from the world around them. Too much screen time can inhibit that natural learning they get from open-ended play and exploration. We know that sometimes life gets in the way and you need to let baby watch TV or look at an app, but try to keep it to a minimum.
Screen Time For Toddlers
We know it can be tempting to give a teething toddler an electronic device and the good news is that screen time can be a little more relaxed in this age group…but not by much. Toddlers are still developing social skills but do have the brain capacity to recognize shows and apps as learning material.
This age group is safe with up to one hour of screen time per day as recommended by Dr. Jennifer Cross. However, the viewing material should be high-quality educational programming that reinforces learning and social behavior. Some good examples are Sesame Street, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, or Reading Rainbow. They all teach academics and how to treat others well.
If one hour sounds like too little, try to think about when you might need it most during your schedule. Maybe you’d rather your children be out of the kitchen while you’re cooking dinner or staying quiet while you’re out to dinner with the in-laws. Save their screen time for the times you most need it.
The article does note that video calls are not considered screen time and should not be factored into their one-hour limit. A FaceTime or Zoom call can be beneficial for building social skills and connecting with friends and family.
Screen Time For Elementary Age
Leisure screen time for this age group should be limited to two hours. (Again, screen usage for virtual school or homework should not come out of their two-hour allotment, as that is active learning time.)
At this age, screens can be too stimulating on a child’s brain. Rather than preparing your child for sleep, the blue light they emit can cause their brains to go into “wake up” mode and they may have a more difficult time falling asleep—and getting up on time in the morning.
Another thing to keep an eye on is the content of the programming they’re watching. Not every show or movie needs to be educational, it is important to make sure that it’s appropriate. With so much information available on the internet, it’s all too easy for a 6-year-old to stumble across an R-rated movie on Netflix.
Parental controls and monitoring or blocking software can help ensure that your children don’t have access to inappropriate or harmful materials.
How can I lessen screen time?
If your family’s current usage of screen time exceeds these recommendations, you don’t have to go into a frenzy and throw all the devices out the window. But reducing your reliance on the TV, smart phone, or iPad can be a good thing for everyone…even the parents!
Start by setting a good example yourself. Use your “phone usage” tool on your smart phone to get an idea of how much screen time you’re actually getting. (Sit down for this one. You might be shocked at the amount of time you spend on that thing!) If you have a hard time tearing yourself away from your phone, set a phone schedule or even delete some apps.
If you’ve been dependent on screens for a while, don’t be surprised if your kids start up the chorus of “We’re bored!” Instead, offer these healthy alternatives:
- Read books! Reading is not only great for the imagination, it’s a great way for kids to expand their vocabulary, learn sight words, and study spelling. Start early by reading to your babies and they’ll be lifelong readers!
- Go for a walk. Our brains thrive when exposed to the outdoors.
- Play a board game. If you have very young children, a cooperative board game like this one can prevent hurt feelings. Everyone wins—or loses—as a team.
- Play with toys. (Hey kids, remember those?) Dust off that LEGO set your kid just had to have last Christmas and dive into some old-fashioned playtime!
Electronic devices might be convenient (not to mention endlessly entertaining!) but there are more creative ways to spend your time.
We all want what’s best for our children. And we know that sometimes that screen is the only thing keeping you from having a mental breakdown and running away to Timbuktu. Above all else remember to be kind to yourself. Parenting is difficult whether you have 1 child or 10. Don’t feel guilty if little Johnny is teething and the only thing that keeps him from crying all day is some screen time. Conversely if you’re under the weather, screen time may help keep your kids entertained while you rest.
It’s okay to use it sometimes. If you can’t stick with the recommendations above but still want to limit screen time, tweak the numbers above. Any effort is better than none.
If you need any pointers feel free to call us or book an appointment and we’ll be happy to help!
Kid Care Pediatrics
Kid Care Pediatrics has been in existence since October 2001. It was established by Omar A. Gomez, M.D. The practice philosophy at Kid Care Pediatrics is to provide quality pediatric medical care for children in a professional yet caring manner.