Toddlers and Tech: How Much Screen Time Is Too Much?

July 11, 2018

Twenty years ago, my mother didn’t think twice about letting me spend hours on end in front of the television or playing Oregon Trail on the computer. It kept me occupied while she got to clean in peace after all.

But nowadays things are different. Everywhere we turn kids are glued to devices, while at the same time everyone is telling us that our kids are on them too often.

While I hear that there are some folks out there that have managed to keep their homes tech-free, I have to admit that I am not one of them. Not even close. But with a four-year-old who can use an iPhone just as well as I can, I find myself often wondering what limits I should set for my kids.

How much tech-time is too much? What can I do to ensure their safety online? Those are the questions we are exploring today.

How Young Is Too Young?

It’s an understatement to say that screens are all around us. We take them with us everywhere from the bus to the bathroom. And since monkey see is monkey do, it’s not surprising that our kids are following in our footsteps.

But is there such a thing as being too young for a screen? The answer is yes. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children 18 months or younger should have no passive screen time at all. You read that right, none.

Passive screen time is classified as digital consumption where little thought, creativity or interaction is required to progress. This includes watching television, YouTube videos or playing repetitive video games.

Active screen time, such as skyping or FaceTime with another person, is okay in moderation because it helps children learn, or connect with relatives who are out of state or abroad.

That’s because noises and lights can overstimulate a young baby, which can lead to sleeping issues and distress. Screen time can also be a distraction for both you and your baby when you are doing something such as breastfeeding. This can take away from the bonding experiences that naturally occur during this time.

Limiting Time

Children under 18 months are not the only ones that should limit screen time. The AAP also recommends that children between the age of 2 and 5 get an hour or less of screen time a day.

As for older children? There isn’t a hard guideline for children 6 and older. What is recommended though is that they do not spend all of their time on the screen. Things like school, an hour of physical activities, homework, social contact, and the recommended 8-12 hours of sleep need to be prioritized first. What’s left over can be used as screen time if you see fit.

Monitor Use

My ten-year-old has her own iPad and has since she was seven. We got some funny looks from friends when we told them, but it was the only thing she wanted for Christmas that year from both Santa and us.

While we were willing to give our daughter her own piece of technology, we have been very careful not to give her free reign of it. One of the Canadian Paediatric Society’s standards for screen time is to mitigate or minimize the negative effects of it.

In our home, this means we are always in the room with our children when they are doing screen time and monitoring what sites they go to, or videos they watch. We put an emphasis on age-appropriate content that is educational.

Monkey See Monkey Do

Little eyes are always watching, even when we are watching our own screens. We can preach healthy tech time to our kids all day long, but when it comes down to it, what really matters is what they see.

That means not being glued to your phone all day. Try setting specific times when everyone can be on their devices and keeping bedrooms and meal times tech-free zones. When tech time is over, get out and go with your kids. Show them the world around them, get moving, read a book, or play a board game together.

The important thing is that you demonstrate to your kids the habits you want them to acquire because our children are always learning, even when we do not mean to teach them.

It’s All About Moderation

As Hosea Ballou once said, “Moderation is the key of lasting enjoyment.” Technology is not inherently bad for our children. If used correctly it can help with language skills, hand-eye coordination, and even help with problem-solving.

The important thing is that we control the technology our children are exposed to, instead of technology controlling us. Growing up in a digital world offers our children opportunities beyond what we could ever imagine, but the world beyond the screen matters too, and we must make sure to expose our kids to a healthy amount of both.

Written by

Jenny Silverstone

Jenny Silverstone is the writer at Studyclerk and the primary author of Mom Loves Best, a research-driven parenting blog that aims to educate parents on essential topics such as internet safety, managing screen time, and healthy childhood development.