A Parenting Dialogue: How Much Screen Time Should I Allow My Child?
Our pediatrician says that children should have TV-free days or a two-hour limit on the time spent in front of screens. It seems to me that it's very difficult to attain a two-hour limit, especially on weekends. Our kids (7 and 9 years old) and all their friends have considerably more screen time than this. I'm not happy about it, but it's hard work to limit the screen time without seemingly endless battles that leave everyone annoyed and frustrated. I’m wondering how to limit screen time on the iPhone for a child. How much screen time do your kids have? (I'm including TV as well as gaming here.) And how do you manage it?
The New Mom
I let my toddler watch however much he wants on the weekends, but not a single minute during the week. He can watch the iPad literally all day Saturday and Sunday if he so chooses, but it disappears during the week. It’s our own form of balance, and it seems to be working out pretty well for our family at least. He often decides he’s done watching “movies” after a while and wants to go do another activity on the weekends, and then during the week, we don’t have to have arguments about how long he can watch or anything. We also deleted YouTube. It was just too easy for inappropriate content to pop up. He watches stuff on the Nick Jr., Disney+, and PBS Kids apps instead.
-- Shawn, mother of one toddler
The Experienced Mother
I don’t think “screen time” issues were nearly as big of a deal when my kids were growing up…but to be fair, there just weren’t as many screen options available! No smartphones or tablets or streaming content. This generation of parents definitely has some different problems to work around.
That said, my kids did have television and video games. We pretty much focused on the "do what you need to first, then do what you want to" mantra. That meant they needed to prioritize school, homework, chores, and extracurricular commitments (like practicing a musical instrument) over free time activities (including screen-based entertainment). And our entire family practiced this, not just the kids. Model the behavior you want to see and all that.
When my kids were very little, they always had more structured screen time limits because they had fewer demands on their time. As they got older, the rule evolved into “all screens off by 9 PM on school nights.” But we worked up to that over many years.
I think for some kids, the focus on restricting screen time makes it even more alluring, sort of like a restrictive diet. Putting the focus on doing other things first (chores, homework, playing outside) seems a healthier way to reduce screen time, in my opinion. Raising children is really about raising adults – in other words, teaching your kids to understand themselves and be independent, rather than trying to monitor and regulate everything for them.
-- Katie, mom of four grown children
The Doctors' Approach
It might be tempting to decide on a certain number of hours that everyone in your family can spend on screens, thinking it's a healthy choice. However, there isn't enough proof that having strict time limits on screen use is really beneficial. That's why, in 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics changed its recommendations about how much media people should use. Instead of giving a fixed amount of time for everyone, they suggest looking at the kind of things you do on screens and how they affect you.
When it comes to screen time and child development, doctors say that instead of just counting the hours, it's more important to think about the quality of your child’s time on screens. This means thinking about how they use the technology and whether it helps them grow socially, emotionally, mentally, and personally. When you're making rules about using screens at home, it's better to focus on the content you're engaging with, watching things together with others, and talking about what you're doing. Research shows that these kinds of rules can help make people feel better compared to just focusing on how much time they spend on screens.
Screens are a part of our lives now, and there are actually some positive effects of screen time on child development. It's important to make a plan for how you and your family will use screens, and you can start this planning early. Talk to your kids about what they think and how they feel about what’s happening on their screens. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry suggests the following tips for healthy screen time:
- Learn about the shows and apps your kids use to make sure they're okay for their age.
- Talk to your child about what they watch. Point out good things like working together, being kind, and caring for others. Connect what they see to things that matter to them.
- Be careful about ads and how they can make people want things.
- Encourage your child to try other things like sports, music, art, or hobbies that don't need screens.
- Show your kids how to use screens in a safe and healthy way by doing it yourself.
- Teach them how to stay safe online and keep their personal things private.
- Decide together when your child can have their own device.
- Use screens to do creative stuff and talk to friends and family.
- Think about what your child is like and what they do. Every family is different, so the plan that works for one might not work for another.
You can use screens in a good way if you guide your family and keep things consistent.
The Holistic Approach
A:Looking for a more holistic approach to screen time? The Montessori teaching method involves giving children some freedom while setting limits. Kids can use phones, computers, and devices, but experts say they need to follow rules about what they watch and how long they use screens. Screen time shouldn't replace real-world experiences. What's more important is how they communicate, behave, and handle quiet moments without being glued to screens. At Montessori Children’s House, for example, computers aren’t used much by young kids. In the elementary years, they use computers for research and teaching typing. By third grade, they teach internet safety and what's appropriate online.
Montessori aims to make kids independent and aware of the world, which is hard if they're always looking at screens. To this end, The Montessori Family offers the following strategies to help avoid the negative effects of screen time on child development:
- Be present: Commit to being available for your child instead of relying on screens as a babysitter.
- Start strong: Initially, go cold turkey and avoid all screens for about a month. Then gradually introduce limited screen time, like once a week.
- Outdoor time: Encourage outdoor activities to replace screen time.
- Family time: Have regular family game nights to engage together.
- Boost creativity: Provide creative tools like crayons, play-dough, and crafts materials.
- Craft activities: Prepare craft activities in advance or consider subscription boxes.
- Practical media use: Use screens for practical purposes like learning, researching, or creating content.
- Be a role model: Control your own screen time to set an example for your child.
- Reduce temptation: Cut down on cable packages or streaming subscriptions and use recorded programs to avoid ads.
- Set clear rules: Decide as a family when and how much screen time is allowed. Stick to these limits.
- Interactive experience: Watch or play with your child, making it verbal and interactive family time.
- Maximize time: If using screens for short breaks, make the most of your time by involving your child in daily chores.
By following these steps, you can effectively manage your child's screen time while maintaining a healthy balance with other activities.
The Bottom Line
Understanding the available toddler reward systems is crucial in making the right choice for your child's temperament and behavior. Each child is distinct, and as a parent, you are the best judge of your child's needs. Reward systems can be particularly effective for goal-oriented tasks like potty training or getting your toddler to stay in bed at night. However, if you have any concerns about your child's behavior, seek guidance from their pediatrician or healthcare provider.
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