How much is enough, what the experts recommend, and how it can benefit kids
Screen time is one of the most important topics when it comes to the relationship between children and technology. Screens can dominate our lives and it’s normal for us to have difficult screen time allowances for ourselves, even as parents. This guide will help to lay out some of the benefits and potential downsides of screen time, plus helpful Dos and Don’ts to make sense of all the advice out there. We hope to finally answer how much screen time for kids is best.
First, here are some important facts to stimulate our thinking about screen time. The American Academy of Pediatrics actually recommends that kids under 18 months avoid all screen time except for video calls. They also recommend that kids older than 2 should only consume 1 hour or less per day of high quality programming. The EU’s Klicksafe initiative provides even stricter screen time rules for kids, advising only 5 minutes for children up to 3 years old, 20 minutes for children 4 to 6, and up to 30-45 minutes for children 7 to 10.
These are important guidelines, but as parents and caregivers, we know that the reality of the day and the need to finally make that chicken nuggets dinner without being interrupted, mean that kids spend more time in front of the screen than we’d like. Accepting reality while finding a better path is what Totoli’s all about and that’s why we’re building a tablet designed for kids to develop a healthier relationship to screen time.
Let’s go over our own recommendations for average screen time for kids by age.
Recommended screen time by age
Under 18 months
Avoid screen time other than video calls
Co-viewing of curated content up to one hour per day
Co-viewing and independent viewing of curated content up to one hour per day, but with more flexibility
Reasonable limits based on your particular situation
12 and over
No strict time limits but with practical rules about content types, and screen time usage based on the context
Benefits of screen time
- Learning and play through apps and games
Age-appropriate apps and games can help young children develop their fine motor skills, improve problem solving and critical thinking, and learn any number of topics like math, spelling, reading, and art in lockstep with their formal education.
- Early exposure to technology to build a healthy relationship
The intentional and gradual introduction of screen time in children’s lives helps them mature alongside their devices and build healthy habits during a time of high neuroplasticity. Good habits and disciplined device usage from a young age may have greater benefits than trying to fix bad habits at a later age.
- Engaging opportunity between parents and kids
Screen time can be a topic of open dialogue between parents and children as we reflect on the amount of time we spend on our devices, and the kind of content we consume. When screen time is a recurring topic of conversation in your household, it becomes another way to engage with your kids, whether you co-view content, or just talk about it afterwards.
Downsides of screen time
- Reliance and addiction potential
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that children ages 8 to 10 spend an average of 6 hours per day in front of a screen and kids ages 11 to 14 spend an average of 9 hours per day in front of a screen. Clearly the addiction potential is there, which is why we recommend healthy limits with an emphasis on intentional screen time that’s for a purpose, and not just for passive viewing.
- Lack of physical activity while using devices
Passive viewing of content on devices typically happens in a sedentary position, and those hours add up. Does screen time affect brain development or physical development? Well, the physical strain and lack of activity can lead to obesity, sleep deprivation, and even attention problems. The key is to pick appropriate content with adequate cooling off periods so kids know when it’s enough for the day.
- Exposure to the wrong content
When we think about “what is proper screen time for kids,” we’re also thinking about “what is proper content for kids.” Ads, in-app purchases, and automatic recommendations can all lead to unwanted outcomes, so it’s best to curate both the device your kids use and the content they consume.
Make screen time intentional and worth it
- Screen time should be a purposeful event in a child’s day, regardless of the content or activity.
Plan what your child views and engages with
- Proper planning and preparation of content ensures that each screen engagement is for, or about, something.
Talk about screen content together
- Making screen time an event means it’s something you can talk about, reflect on, or even debate about afterwards.
Have warmup and followup activities to screen time
- Kids should know what to do before and after their screen time to properly frame it in their lives, and not just treat it as a default state.
Make screen time just one of the many activities your child does
- Using a device should feel just like reading, or playing sports, or any other activity your child does in a day, and not like an extra reward for doing something good.
Avoid idly having devices playing on in the background
- Even when a screen is playing content in the background, it will invite attention and encourage idle viewing.
Don’t eat in front of screens
- You want screen time to be purposeful, and not just an accompaniment to another activity.
Don’t give your kids a device just to keep them occupied
- As we mentioned, screen time has to be an active use of time. Of course there are times when you just need your children to stay busy for a few minutes, but this should be the exception, and not the norm.
Don’t set a bad example
- This is a tricky one, but we know kids often mimic their parents, and this is true of our screen use as well.
The most important takeaway from all this is that a pragmatic and flexible approach to screen time that takes the specific needs of your family into consideration will likely do the most good. We recommend starting an open dialogue with your little ones about devices, technology, and screen time in general to stimulate critical thinking about the issue that makes it easier to adjust your rules over time. At Totoli, we’re always striving to make screen time purposeful and engaging, and helping to make technology a healthy part of our children’s lives. We’ll continue to address this topic in positive ways as our relationship with our devices continues to evolve over time.
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