Screen time and children — How to guide your child

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Screens are everywhere. As a result, controlling a child's screen time has become much harder for parents. To complicate matters, some screen time can be educational for children as well as support their social development.

So how do you manage your child's screen time? Here's a primer on guiding your child's use of screens and media.

Screen time guidelines

The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages media use, except for video-chatting, by children younger than 18 to 24 months. If you want to introduce digital media to children ages 18 to 24 months, make sure it's high quality and avoid solo media use. For children ages 2 to 5, limit screen time to one hour a day of high-quality programming. As your child grows, a one-size-fits-all approach doesn't work as well. You'll need to decide how much media to let your child use each day and what types of media are appropriate.

The problems with screen time

Unstructured playtime is more valuable for a young child's developing brain than is electronic media. Despite the fact that many digital media programs claim to be educational, children younger than age 2 are more likely to learn and remember information from a live presentation than they are from a video.

By age 2, children can benefit from certain types of screen time, such as programming with music, movement and stories. However, passive screen time shouldn't replace reading, playing or problem-solving. Co-view with your child to help your child understand what he or she is seeing and apply it in real life.

Also, it's crucial to monitor the shows your child is watching and the games or apps he or she is playing to make sure they are appropriate. Avoid fast-paced programming, which young children have a hard time understanding, apps with a lot of distracting content, and violent media. Eliminate advertising on apps, since young children have trouble telling the difference between ads and factual information.

As your child grows, keep in mind that too much or poor quality screen time has been linked to:

  • Obesity
  • Irregular sleep schedules and shorter duration of sleep
  • Behavioral problems
  • Loss of social skills
  • Violence
  • Less time for play

Developing screen time rules

In recognition of how ever-present screens have become, the American Academy of Pediatrics recently held a symposium to share practical advice for parents. Experts noted that children are still doing the same things that they've always done — only now they are often doing them virtually. As a result, it makes sense for parents to apply the same rules to children's real and virtual environments. This means playing with your child, teaching kindness, being involved, and knowing your child's friends and what your child does with them.

The experts also suggested that the quality of the media your child is exposed to is more important than the platform or amount of time spent.

Nov. 18, 2016 See more In-depth