child(ish) Q & A: Screen Time

child(ish) Q&A: Screen Time

Since our post “The Importance of Play“, we have received a few questions regarding the use of screen time. Here is a quick cheat sheet if you are in the middle of the screen time battle.

What is screen time?

Screen time refers to any sedentary activity involving the use of visual electronic media. Examples include: smart phones, tablets, computers, televisions, and video games.  Little to no physical effort is utilized during screen time. 

When is screen time okay?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends the following:

  • Children under 18 months of age should avoid screen time, unless they are video-chatting with family and friends, as it is considered a form of social interaction. 
  • Children 18-24 months should be exposed to educational programming with parental supervision to discuss what they are seeing, like Sesame Street.
  • Children 2-5 years of age should be limited to 1 hour a day of educational programming with parental supervision to discuss what is being seen and help them apply it to their everyday life. An example would be, “Blue is sad because Magenta knocked down her blocks. What should Blue do now? Could she tell Magenta that knocking down the blocks makes her upset? Has something like this happened at school? How should we handle that?”.
  • Children ages 6 and older should have consistent time limits regarding media usage and type, ensuring that it does not affect their sleep, physical activity, or their daily routines, such as homework and chores. 

Essentially, screen time is fine as long as you set boundaries, and that media devices are used more as a tool for learning and social engagement. Screen time is not okay if a child is left with a screen device unattended, as it will no longer serve as an educational tool, but rather a visually-addictive babysitter. Screen time ≠ playtime.

How much screen time is okay?

Honestly, the lesser the better. 
A study has found that toddlers and young children who spend more than 3 hours a day of screen time are more likely to develop a sedentary lifestyle when they reach kindergarten. Other research has also determined that excessive screen time is related to behavioral problems, mood swings, insufficient sleep, and obesity in school-aged children and teens. Even more studies are finding too much screen time correlates to limited fine motor skills and nearsighted vision in children. 

How should we set boundaries with our children?

This part is hard as we live in a more and more wired society and adults also experience screen time addiction ourselves. But, here are a few suggestions:

Be a model – Children model their parents as part of how they learn. If they see you staring down your phone throughout the day, they assume that behavior as well. Setting aside time to put the phone down and engaging with your kids through games, activities, or even a walk outside on a daily basis can help them to be active, social, and engaged with their physical environment. 

Establish screen time boundaries…and stick to them! – Digital media use is inevitable. If you set a time limit for screen time for, let’s say 15 minutes, then the time limit is 15 minutes. Not a minute more. If no TV unless homework is finished is the rule in your house, then that means absolutely no television until homework is finished. Sure, a good amount of tantrum and fuss will occur in the beginning, but it will fade as expectations have been set and are kept consistently. 

The battle has begun, what to do? – Your child is in a full-blown tantrum because they can no longer have screen time. How do you deal? 

  • Prior to giving screen time, establish the boundaries: “You can play on the tablet for 10 minutes before dinner.” You could also set a timer for 10 minutes. 
  • Once the tantrum has begun, calmly explain the expectations previously given: “What did mommy say? You can play for 10 minutes before dinner. Now, 10 minutes past and now it’s all done.”  
  • Stay consistent and acknowledge their feelings. “I know you’re upset and you can be upset. But we talked about how long we can play on the tablet and now time is up. We will play with it together tomorrow.” Hug it out if you need to.
  • Take a walk, or use any physical activity to calm them. Because screen time can cause a heightened arousal state, movement can help get the excess energy out. Going for a walk to talk about their day, yoga movements to calm the system (like sun salutations), or even doing some chores like helping taking the trash out, vacuuming, or getting the laundry may be beneficial. Also, don’t forget to remind them (and yourself) to breathe.

If you have any other questions or topics you’d like us to discuss for our next Q&A, leave us a note in the comments!

Screen Time Guidelines for Babies and Toddlers“, Kids
American Academy of Pediatrics Announces New Recommendations for Children’s Media Use“, American Academy of Pediatrics, 2016.
Too much screen time for toddlers may lead to unhealthy behaviors growing up, study says“, Joshua Bote. USA Today, 2020.
Screen time and children“, Medline Plus. 2019.

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