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 screens
Unstructured playtime is more valuable for a young child's developing brain than is electronic media. 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 some types of screen time, such as programming with music, movement and stories. By watching together, you can help your child understand what he or she is seeing and apply it in real life. However, passive screen time shouldn't replace reading, playing or problem-solving.
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
The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages media use, except for video chatting, by children younger than 18 to 24 months. If you 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's appropriate.
Consider applying the same rules to your child's real and virtual environments. In both, play with your child, teach kindness, be involved, and know your child's friends and what your child does with them. Also, keep in mind that the quality of the media your child is exposed to is more important than the type of technology or amount of time spent.
To ensure quality screen time:
- Preview programs, games and apps before allowing your child to view or play with them. Organizations such as Common Sense Media can help you determine what's appropriate. Better yet, watch, play or use them with your child.
- Seek out interactive options that engage your child, rather than those that just require pushing and swiping or staring at the screen.
- Use parental controls to block or filter internet content.
- Make sure your child is close by during screen time so that you can supervise his or her activities.
- Ask your child regularly what programs, games and apps he or she has played with during the day.
- When watching programming with your child, discuss what you're watching and educate him or her about advertising and commercials.
Also, 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.
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.
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- 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.
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