Kiddos & The Screen

Girl watching tv

Is there just one set of screen time guidelines for children?

Remember the days when there was one television in a household, and everyone gathered in front of the same set to watch together? It almost seems like a different world now: people carry their own television-computer-telephone in the form of smartphones in their pockets, cable TV and satellite have been augmented or replaced, and kids use tablets at school (or in order to attend school, in some cases!). More than any other time in history, technology -- specifically screens -- have been integrated into almost every aspect of our daily lives.

It’s so hard to know how to manage it all, and the pandemic has really highlighted that fact. In our homes, anyway, our previous rules about screen time changed dramatically when suddenly school was virtual, the kids were home, and the parents needed to work, all at the same time. In some cases, devices that were once fun extras became crucial necessities. But how does all of this jive with what we know about the effects of screens on developing brains? And how does (or how should) this inform what rules we have in place for our own children?

Luckily, for that first question, we have the researchers at Common Sense Media, who have provided thoughtful, unbiased scientific research on children and media usage since 2003. And it turns out that not all screen time is created equal; for instance, zoning out to a YouTube gamer video is different than following along with an instructional video; reading an e-book, completing schoolwork, or doing something creative like coding or making a movie all have different effects on the brain as well.

While there’s no way to prove cause and effect, experts seem to settle on one to two hours a day as a general limit; after two hours, there’s some evidence that children’s sleep, mood, behavior, activity level, and attention can be affected. Does this mean your child will be permanently changed if you have a few days here and there where they spend a lot more time on devices? Of course not! It’s just a general guideline to give some sense of what an ideal level of engagement is -- and it can be a great talking point for explaining to your child why they can’t start that fifth consecutive hour of Minecraft.

Kids on Ipads

Here is just one set of screen time guidelines for different ages, from four major organizations: the American Academy of Pediatrics, the World Health Organization, Britain’s Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, and the Canadian Paediatric Society. Remember, these are aspirational, meaning that most people won’t hit these targets perfectly, at least not every day. They’re easily adaptable to your family’s needs and beliefs, which may change as children get older. And be aware that adult screen time usage matters too -- not only do our kids notice and mimic what we do, but overusing screens can have similar negative effects on adults’ physical and mental health.

Sample - American Academy of Pediatrics; World Health Organization; Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health; Canadian Paediatric Society

  • Age 0-2 years: Ideally none except for video chatting with family and friends; at 18-24 months, parents and guardians can consider thoughtfully selected programming if they wish.
  • Age 2-5 years: Limit screen use to one hour per day of high-quality programs; whenever possible, adults should co-view programming to help children understand what they’re seeing.
  • Age 6 years and older: Aim for two hours whenever possible, though this is understandably impacted quite a bit by virtual schooling needs. Place consistent limits on tech use, try to stop screens at least an hour before bedtime, and designate screen-free times together (like mealtimes) as well as screen-free locations (like the bedroom).

    What kinds of screen time rules does your family follow? Do you have any screen-free zones? Comment below and let us know!

    Written by: Melissa Holman-Kursky  •  Photos by: Ksenia Chernaya & Jessica Lewis

    Leave a comment

    Please note, comments must be approved before they are published