With screens virtually everywhere, controlling a child's screen time can be challenging. 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.
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:
- Irregular sleep schedules and shorter duration of sleep
- Behavioral problems
- Loss of social skills
- 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.
Encouraging digital literacy
At some point your child will be exposed to content that you haven't approved and devices without internet filters. Talk to your child about the situations that could occur and the behavior you expect.
Encourage your child to think critically about what they see on their screens. Ask your child to consider whether everything on the internet is accurate. Does your child know how to tell if a website is trustworthy? Help your child understand that media are made by humans with points of view. Explain that many types of technology collect data to send users ads or to make money.
Setting limits for older children
Set reasonable limits for your child's screen time, especially if your child's use of screens is hindering involvement in other activities. Consider these tips:
- Prioritize unplugged, unstructured playtime.
- Create tech-free zones or times, such as during mealtime or one night a week.
- Discourage use of media entertainment during homework.
- Set and enforce daily or weekly screen time limits and curfews, such as no exposure to devices or screens one hour before bedtime.
- Consider using apps that control the length of time a child can use a device.
- Require your children to charge their devices outside of their bedrooms at night.
- Keep screens out of your child's bedroom.
- Limit your own screen time.
- Eliminate background TV.
Teaching appropriate behavior
Online relationships and social media have become a major part of adolescent life. Experts suggest that it's OK for your teen to be a part of these worlds — as long as he or she understands appropriate behavior. Explain what's allowed and what's not, such as sexting, cyberbullying and sharing personal information online. Teach your child not to send or share anything online that he or she would not want the entire world to see for eternity. No matter how smart or mature you feel your child is, monitor his or her online and social media behavior. Your child is bound to make mistakes using media. Talk to your child and help him or her learn from them.
Also, set an example. Consider that your child is watching you for cues on when it's OK to use screens and how to use them.
Managing your child's use of screens and media will be an ongoing challenge. But by developing household rules — and revisiting them as your child grows — you can help ensure a safe experience.
June 20, 2019
See more In-depth
- Council on communications and the media. Children, adolescents, and the media. American Academy of Pediatrics Policy. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/collection html. Accessed May 31, 2019.
- Council on communications and media. Media use by children younger than 2. American Academy of Pediatrics Policy. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/collection. Accessed May 24, 2019.
- Sege RD. Television and media violence. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed May 9, 2019.
- Brown A, et al. Beyond 'turn it off': How to advise families on media use. AAP News. 2015;36:1.
- American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Communications and Media. Media use in school-aged children and adolescents. American Academy of Pediatrics Policy. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/collection. Accessed May 31, 2019.
- American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Communications and Media. Media and young minds. American Academy of Pediatrics Policy. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/collection. Accessed May 31, 2019.
- Shelov SP, et al. Media. In: Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5. 6th ed. New York, N.Y.: Bantam Books; 2014.