Screen time for kids: Finding the right balance

October 24, 2016 Providence Health Team

In a world full of smartphones, tablets, video games and television, it’s more work than ever to make sure your children don’t spend all of their time in front of a screen. And when they are playing a video game, that it’s constructive and healthy, as well as fun.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has updated its recommendations to reflect that screen time now covers much more than just watching television, and that families routinely use a range of devices for entertainment and to communicate and learn.

"What's most important is that parents be their child's 'media mentor,'” said Jenny Radesky, M.D., the lead author of the academy’s policy statement. “That means teaching them how to use it as a tool to create, connect and learn."

In one of the more notable changes to its recommendations, the academy cut screen time for 2- to 5-year-olds from two hours to one hour. Although the recommendations reflect the many ways children spend time in front of screens, three simple messages were clear:

  1. Media quality matters as much and quantity.
  2. All children should have personalized media guidelines based on their age, interests and personalities.
  3. Parents, especially those with young children, should be present and involved when their children are using media.

Infants to 5-year-olds

For preschoolers, the academy says:

  • Infants up to age 2 engage in video chats, as with a distant relative, and children as young as 15 months may learn words from touchscreens. But the key for such young children is to also interact with a parent while engaging with a video screen.
  • For ages 2 to 5, much of the same thinking applies. Digital books and certain apps may be appropriate, but parental support is essential.
  • For children ages 3 to 5, the academy notes that well-designed television programs, such as “Sesame Street,” can help children improve their literacy and social skills.

Screen time guidelines for older children

The academy also updated its guidance for kids 5 through 18, acknowledging that most teenagers have smartphones and say they are “constantly connected” to the internet. Most also have a “social media portfolio” on sites such as Instagram and Facebook.

Traditional and social media can raise awareness of current events, build supportive networks and promote community participation. When families and friends are separated, these media also can help people stay in contact, the academy said.

On the other hand, excessive screen time can contribute to obesity, disturb sleep and interfere with learning. In some cases, such behavior can cause kids to withdraw from real relationships. The academy also noted internet gaming disorder is a disorder that requires further research.

The academy says parents should create personalized plans for their children, making sure they have time for sleep, study and physical activity. It suggests:

  • Making sure young people don’t have TVs, computers and smartphones available in their bedrooms when they sleep
  • Encouraging media-free family time
  • Setting age-appropriate guidelines for each child that address which devices may be used and for how many hours a day
  • Discussing the need to be good citizens online, treating others with respect, being wary of solicitations and protecting privacy

Talk to your health care provider about how much exposure is right for your family.

You can find a Providence provider in our online directory.

If you have questions about what kind of video games your child should be playing, these earlier To Your Health blog posts provide some guidance:

Virtual violence: Nothing to play around with
Get up and Pokémon GO, but watch your step

More on the updated guidelines

The new policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Media and Young Minds,” can be found on the academy’s web site.

To learn more about the updated guidelines for kids ages 5 through 18, see the policy statement “Media use in school-aged children and adolescents.

The academy also encourages families to set and maintain a family media plan, using the online tools offered by

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