The amount of screen time a child should be exposed to varies from expert to expert. Some recommend no screen time until 18 months old, while others advocate waiting until age three. In 2019, the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) recommended that there should be limited to no screen time for children under age 5.
Author and psychologist John Rosemond recommends that children shouldn't be allowed to watch any television until they have learned to read and have learned to read well. After that, he recommends you only allow your child to watch five hours a week. Psychotherapist and addiction expert Dr. Nicholas Kardaras believes that kids below the age of 10 should have no use of video games or interactive screens (tablets or smart phones). He asserts excessive screen time leads to clinical disorders.
Here’s a summary of the recommendations from The American Academy of Pediatrics (2016):
Age 0-18 months: Zero screen time with the exception of video chatting to family members.
Age 18-24 months: Media can be introduced if it is co-viewed with a parent. That means it’s okay if a parent is sitting there talking about what is happening on the screen. It is not recommended that children age 18 to 24 months watch media alone.
Age 2-5: No more than one hour of high-quality programming a day, preferably co-viewed with a caregiver.
Age 6-18: Prior to 2016, the AAP recommended one to two total hours of digital media a day. In 2016, the AAP updated their guidelines. They now urge parents of school-age children to limit media so that a child’s day includes at least an hour of physical activity, time for homework and family, and adequate sleep.
While experts may disagree on how much, they do agree on this:
Absolutely no TV, video games, computers, or any type of electronics (smartphones, tablets, etc.) in the bedroom—even when they’re teenagers.
Here’s a condensed list of Do’s and Don’ts from the leading authorities:
Establish rules about each media device. For instance, what is their total screen time limit? Are there any sites they can’t visit? Can they post pictures and videos? Are you planning on randomly checking their devices for inappropriate messages and photos? Talk to your kids about the rules and what is appropriate and what is inappropriate online behavior.
Have a technology curfew—at least one hour before bedtime—where no screen usage is allowed.
Have children charge or leave all portable digital devices (smartphones, tablets, etc.) in parent’s bedroom at the established curfew.
Establish media-free zones in your home, such as bedrooms and the dinner table.
Make sure that all of your children’s media devices (smartphones, tablets, video games, etc.) have top-quality parental controls set up.
Check these parental controls often to make sure they have not been dismantled. Try visiting some prohibited sites to see what happens.
Consider having a rule where internet usage is only allowed in family areas, such as the kitchen or living room. (Kids are less likely to visit inappropriate sites when they risk being caught.)
Set rules about new technology before it is introduced.
Talk to your children in the car or restaurants instead of automatically letting them watch media.
Pay attention to all media in which your children are involved, including games and apps.
Spend time with your kids teaching proper online etiquette, including topics such as giving out personal information, inappropriate pictures or language, cyberbullying, and sexting.
Understand and follow media ratings for TV, video games, and movies.
Make it clear to your children that you will be checking all of their internet activity daily, and that includes all of their social media. Get their passwords for all social media accounts. (See chapter 13 in Parenting with Focus for why.)
If texting is allowed, make it clear to your kids that you have the right to read their texts at any time. If anything is deemed inappropriate, their texting plan will be cut. (Again, see chapter 13 in Parenting with Focus for why.)
Check all browsing history on the internet daily, and don’t allow them to delete browsing history.
Avoid fast-paced media—especially for young children.
Place family computer in a public spot in the house (such as the kitchen) so parents can monitor computer use.
Establish rules where screen time is only allowed after all homework and chores are completed.
Consider having a weekday ban on all technology, and let screen time be a weekend treat.
Let your children’s other caregivers know about your media rules.
Set a good example with your own media use.
Don’t allow TVs, video games, computers, tablets, or any electronic media in your children’s bedrooms—even when they are teenagers.
Don’t have the TV on in the background if you have preschoolers.
Don’t allow any type of screen time during family meals.
Don’t allow your child to be involved in any media that doesn’t have parental controls set up.
Don’t allow screen time one hour before bedtime.
Don’t allow children to watch inappropriate media.
Don’t use screen time as a discipline tool or as a way to calm your children down. Teach them to behave properly without having to pacify them with media.
Don’t allow virtual reality headsets for children under 13. (Actually, we still don’t know the health risks of these headsets at any age.)
Learn more about how to parent responsibly in a digital world in Parenting with Focus by Katie Ely.