The technology children have access to today is changing their world, giving them access to endless information and opportunities. But there’s a downside, too, that adults need to be aware of. When children are always looking at screens, it’s very easy for them to forget about other fun, healthy, or educational activities they can experience in “real life.”
This question is very timely when it comes to children: How much screen time is good? And how much is too much? First, let’s define what screen time really means.
What counts as screen time when it comes to kids?
Screen time is the amount of time a child spends using a device with a screen such as a TV, computer, gaming console, tablet, virtual reality headset, or smartphone.
According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, on average, children ages 8-12 in the United States spend 4-6 hours a day watching or using screens, and teens often spend 9 hours or more. Also, according to Common Sense Media, nearly half of all children 8 and under have their own tablet device and spend an average of about 2.25 hours a day on digital screens.
How much screen time is OK for children?
Screen time is an important and unavoidable part of your child’s life, especially as they get older. Tweens and teenagers may need to spend more time on a computer to complete homework, or using their phones to coordinate for sports, activities and group projects at school. It’s also important to take into account that there are also different types of screen time: using a phone or computer to video call a family member has a different effect on a developing brain than watching a stream of videos.
In general, however, daily screen time recommendations largely depend on the age of the child.
According to leading pediatric resources, the recommended amount of screen time depends on a child’s age. Most agree however, that children under 2 years should not have any screen time and those under 5 years should have less than two hours a day.
If your child needs to be at home for an extended period of time, such as what happened with remote schooling during the pandemic, screen use for school, homework and interacting with family and peers is necessary. However, it is important to take frequent breaks from screen time and avoid long periods of sitting.
How to limit screen time for kids
Not all screen time is bad. Just remember that the best model for appropriate screen time for your kids is you! As a parent, caregiver, or adult who is often around children, kids are subconsciously watching you as an example of what is appropriate and “normal” screen time usage.
Here are a few ways to lower screen time without putting your kids into withdrawal:
- Encourage kids to be involved in activities that don’t require electronics, such as spending time with friends, creating art projects, or reading.
- Turn off all screens during meals and at least 1 hour before bedtime.
- Keep TVs and other screens, including smartphones, tablets, and gaming systems, out of your child’s bedroom.
- Set a good example by turning off TVs and other screens when you’re not using them.
- Turn off or mute your phone when you’re not using it and during family times, like meals.
- Teach children about online privacy and safety.