Managing Kids’ Screen Time

The World Health Organization has issued guidelines for screen time for young children. They recommend no TV, video games, etc. for children under two years, and just one hour of screen time for kids 2-5.

The object is not just to limit exposure to electronic inputs, but to get kids up and moving, too. “The pattern of overall 24-hour activity is key: replacing prolonged restrained or sedentary screen time with more active play, while making sure young children get enough good-quality sleep,” says the WHO website.

The American Academy of Pediatrics issued similar recommendations in 2016, pointing out that excessive screen time was associated with childhood obesity, poor sleep, and delays in language development.

They also point out that quiet time is great for kids — but that this time should be spent in interactive activities like singing, playing games, reading books, and telling stories. Less screen time is always better, the experts say.

Limiting screen time isn’t easy

Dr. Jenny Radesky points out that this is easier said than done. TV shows, social media platforms, and video games are specifically designed to keep viewers watching. Modern streaming video services auto advance to the next episode automatically. Many households and even businesses have TV on as the default. It’s hard for parents to control screen time, even for young children.

Radesky would like to see the electronics industry change their approach. Messages shown between kids’ programs could remind children to go out and play. Producers of kids’ TV could voluntarily meet quality standards set by organizations like the AAP.

Realistically, it’s up to parents.

Here are some ways to limit screen time:

  • Place TVs and computers in a home office or den, not in kids’ bedrooms or play rooms.
  • Set aside times to unplug. Family play times and reading times make great traditions.
  • Turn off TV and video games an hour before bedtime to help kids get quality sleep.
  • Control your own electronics use. Avoid going to your phone whenever you have down time or keeping TV on in the background. Modeling less screen time helps kids develop healthier habits.
  • Avoid watching TV or checking email during meals.
  • Find other ways to have fun as a family. Hold a family dance party, read aloud, take your toddler for a walk, or play games.
  • Establish chore time, bath time, exercise time, and other scheduled activities for the family.
  • Choose a high quality program to watch at a planned time, or a high quality game or app to enjoy. Don’t watch whatever is on TV or settle down with YouTube.
  • Not just for kids

Working to reduce kids’ screen time could improve quality of life for your whole family. Researchers at Nielsen found that American adults spend as much as 11 hours a day in front of screens of one kind and another. Nearly half that time is spent watching TV.

Less screen time can mean more time with friends and family, more active time, and more time in creative or productive endeavors. Even when screens are on, discuss what you’re watching or dance to the music. Help your kids develop habits of critical thinking as they watch, and help them learn from their screen time.

If screen time is a concern for you, ask your pediatrician for suggestions.