Parents are always asking, “How much screen time should my kids have?” It’s a familiar question we parents ask when we are talking with friends who also have children. I have found that the answer people give depends on many variables: if both parents work, if the kids go to school, if the kids stay at home, if there are significant family stressors or changes occurring in the home, etc.
In order to answer this question, I refer to the recommendations set forth by The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). The AAP published research and policies regarding media use for young children. The AAP recommends that children under the age of 18 months do not receive screen time. Research has shown that children under the age of 2 experience “video deficit,” which is difficulty learning from two-dimensional video representations. Children under the age of 2 require hands-on learning and social interaction in order to develop language skills, social-emotional skills and cognitive skills. That’s why toys and manipulatives are great for young children. Parents staying on the floor with their child so that they are eye level is also another great strategy to help your child’s development.
For children ages 2-5, the AAP recommends only one hour of screen time, and emphasizes that screen time should be with high-quality programming, such as PBS, “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood“ and Sesame Workshop. For children 6 and older, it is recommended that parents balance screen time with social activities, play, homework and family time. The recommendation of balancing screen time with social activities, play and family time should also be applied to children ages 2-5 as well.
Media use provides many benefits to children such as increased access to knowledge, social contact and support, and increased access to health information; however, there are many negative health effects associated with excessive exposure to media. For example, it negatively effects the quality of sleep, attention levels and learning, while also exposing children to inaccurate and inappropriate content.
Excessive media use is also associated with a higher incidence of obesity and depression. Parents should monitor and supervise the content children view on media. Parental supervision is one of the most important variables in decreasing behavioral problems, such as defiance and non-compliance. It is also important to discuss internet safety and responsibility when surfing the web and playing online games.
Parents can set expectations and model appropriate media use. The AAP also recommends that parents watch media with their children. Watching what your child watches on the television or tablet communicates to your child that you are interested in what interests them, and that you want to spend time with. Watching along with your child provides the necessary supervision to ensure your child’s safety while investing in your child’s self-esteem. Media time can become a family activity. Choose a movie, television show or computer game, and make it into a family night activity.
Learn more about Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Psychology at Ochsner.