Screens are all around us, all the time. It used to be that the television was the one screen in the home. But, today, our households are filled with tablets and smartphones, too. Everyone seems to believe deep down that screen time isn’t a great thing for kids, but how much screen time is too much?
Here’s a look at screen time recommendations by age as outlined by the American Academy of Pediatrics. While these recommendations are authoritative and rooted in scientific research, you’ll need to translate these recommendations into a plan that works for your family.
How Much Screen Time is Too Much for Different Ages?
Screen time is something to make more and more available as your kids age. You should always limit screen time to some degree, but those limitations can be relaxed gradually over time. Here’s a look at screen time recommendations by age:
Newborn to 18 Months
Parents should avoid all digital media for children younger than 18 months. First, digital media isn’t good for a child of this age on a day-to-day basis because of the stimulation. There’s simply too much noise and too much light associated with screens, and your newborn or baby may experience some distress or trouble sleeping if they get screen time at a young age.
Also, screen time at this age can hold back brain development. It’s far better for parents to engage babies one-on-one, to make plenty of eye contact, and to encourage their exploration of the world around them. At best, digital media can slow down a baby’s development. At worst, it can even lead to behavioral issues.
It’s impossible to completely limit screen time, but make sure it’s not a part of your baby’s routine until he or she crosses the 18-month threshold.
2 to 5 Years
Between 2 and 5 years of age, limit your child to just one hour of screen time each day. Instead, emphasize creative and outdoor play. Use screen time as a reward or for moments when you (as a parent) simply need a break.
But be careful what you’re watching during screen time at these ages. It’s really hard for kids at this age to comprehend and decipher advertisements. They are also unaware of the difference real and fictional characters. For that reason, you should stick to educational programs on public television that are designed for children at this age — and that have no advertisements.
Sesame Street is always a good idea, as are Daniel Tiger, Bob the Builder and other programs you can find on your local PBS affiliate. And don’t forget to build on educational screen time. Ask your child about what he or she learned on Sesame Street and other programs, and help your child build on those lessons learned.
6 to 18 Years
At 6 years of age and older, there is no set limit on screen time. Keep focusing on productive activities, such as physical activities (like playing outside), educational activities (doing homework), social activities (going to camps, having friends over) and restful activities (like sleeping).
You should also consider some sort of structure for screen time. Some parents ban screen-based entertainment between Sunday and Friday nights so that children can focus on school and other important activities. Other parents may limit screen time to just an hour after school or during set windows over the weekend.
Find what works for you, but always emphasize the aforementioned productive activities over entertainment activities.
Effects of Screen Time on Brain Development
Why is limiting screen time so important? Because there are serious health and developmental consequences that come with too much screen time. The negative consequences of too much screen time include:
- Difficulty focusing, concentrating and paying attention
- Trouble building a large vocabulary
- Challenges handling social situations and making friends
- An inability to work hard and persist through difficult times
- A lack of empathy
These negative consequences aren’t meant to scare parents. Rather, they are simply meant to highlight the very real effects of excessive screen time that scientists are discovering out in the real world.
Final Thoughts on Screen Time Recommendations By Age
Don’t forget that you set the best example for your kids. Children are very perceptive at a very young age. And, if you have your face in a smart phone all the time, your child is going to perceive a screen as something to be desired.
So try out limiting your own screen time and setting a positive example for your kids. You may find that your example does more than anything else to limit your children’s screen time.
Do you have an effective plan or policy for limiting screen time at home? Share with us in the comments section below or by using our contact page to send a message.