Screen time is an issue that parents fifteen, or maybe even just ten years ago, didn’t have to deal with as much as today. With the ever-present smartphone, tablet, and multiple viewing platforms available to everyone 24/7, screen time is an inevitable reality for all parents. There are some parents who can manage zero screen time but for most, a little (or more than a little) screen time will become, or already is, part of their daily life. A parent might ask, “How do I know how much screen time I can give my child?”
Here are some practical guidelines that might help:
- For children 18 months and younger
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children younger than 18 months old should avoid screen time completely, with the exception of video calls, presumably to important loved ones who are travelling or live far away. This means zero screen time for the first 18 months of life.
- For children 18 months to 5 years old
After 18 months, there is no magic number like one or two hours a day. For younger children who are 18-24 months old, parents should carefully choose and screen the programs that the child can watch. Ideally, parents also watch the said video or program with the child to help him understand what he is watching. The AAP does recommend that children 2 to 5 years old should be limited to 1 hour a day of high-quality programs and again, parents should watch the show together with the child.
- For children 6 years and older
For children 6 and older, the AAP recommends that consistent limits should be in place on what media can be watched and how much screen time they are allowed.
Can I really follow these guidelines?
The truth is, most parents will have a hard time following these guidelines to a tee. Sometimes, that 30-minute episode of “Peppa Pig” will mean the difference between sanity and going crazy – for the parent, not the child. It might also mean the difference between getting dinner on the stove for you and your toddler or your 3rd take out order for the week.
On an 8-hour flight, “Frozen” on your phone might also mean the difference between a complete meltdown and a peaceful 4-year-old. One piece of advice we can give is to arm yourself with as much information as you can – like reading about the pros and cons of screen time, choosing programs and apps carefully, putting parental controls on your phone - and then you can make the best decision for you and your family.
Some parents can manage with 1 hour a day (hooray!) while others might need an hour before nap and an hour after dinner (hooray too!). For tweens and teenagers, these hours might need to adjust when they also need to go online for homework or do research for a term paper. Media and technology are here to stay, and parents need to make sure that we are able to manage them as much as can.
Lastly, it’s very important that we make sure our children are well-rounded – no one wants a child stuck to the screen 8 hours a day. Screen addiction is real, and we need to be aware of this danger.
Balance is key – screen time, playtime with friends, dinner with the family, sports after school – these are what make up a healthy child and childhood. No one knows your child better than you – if 3 hours a day doesn’t deprive your teen of sleep (very important!) or quality time with friends and family, then 3 hours it is. Remember, there is no perfect formula, but we should always strive to do our best for our kids.