Is screen time for kids all bad?

Screens get a lot of bad press; they create kids who are “antisocial,” “addicted,” who can’t concentrate. Even Steve Jobs famously limited his children’s screen time!

So is screen time all bad?

Boardgames gone digital

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Television and other entertainment media should be avoided for infants and children under age two. A child’s brain develops rapidly during these first years, and young children learn best by interacting with people, not screens.” But is a little screen time, on the odd occasion, for kids all bad?

Logically, we all know from observing our little people, that they weren’t built to sit still all day – they love to move around! Little people learn best when they can putter around, engage with different environments, use their hands to explore texture, motion and concepts like mass and size (who hasn’t watched an 18-month-old spend an hour putting containers in and out of each other?!) Using all their senses, testing the limits of their bodies and seeing how things work is how a toddler’s brain develops and how they learn about the world – time spent sitting on a little bottom looking at a screen limits these opportunities.

However, there can be a time and a place for screens and once your Tot turns two, screen time can be incorporated in small doses. Here are a few tips for screen time for children ages two and up:

  • Keep the screen time educational, engaging, and age-appropriate.
  • Avoid using screen time as a “babysitter.” Strictly limit the time to 15 or 30 minutes.
  • Interact with your child during screen time. Discuss the plot of television shows, talk through educational apps and games. Use screen time to facilitate conversations. (There’s a difference between a child watching a screen solo and a family watching a movie together).
  • Do not allow your Tot to have screen time in bed as it may interfere with sleep.
  • For reviews of apps, games, websites, and television shows, and more visit commonsensemedia.org.

Ideas for age-appropriate, educational screen time for children 2-3 years of age:

  • Allow your Tot to take photos with an iPad/iPhone, and then use those photos to create a book (digital or printed).
  • Teach your Tot about the idea of research by researching something he/she finds interesting (ex. dump trucks, elephants, snow) using the Internet.
  • Assist your Tot in making a “movie.”
  • Find block designs online and try to re-create them at home.

Children can become rapidly addicted to screen time if they are given unfettered access, so if you are introducing screen time start as you mean to continue. Some ideas for setting up a controlled screen time environment:

  • Have a password on all your devices and don’t tell your children (so they can’t “help themselves”).
  • Set a timer for 15 or 20 minutes and tell the child the screen goes off when the alarm goes off.
  • Treat screen time as an occasional experience rather than an everyday or expected experience.
  • Don’t get in the habit of allowing your Tot to use screens in the car or in environments when you would otherwise have an opportunity to have a conversation with them (restaurants, family events). Screens can be a fabulous diversion for Tots and can keep them quiet, but they can also encourage children to be absent in environments when they should be learning to be sociable.