When it comes to determining how much screen time is too much for children, one voice stands out above the rest. The most recent and widely accepted guidelines for screen use among young children come from the American Academy of Pediatrics. As parents and caregivers building a kids video app like Jellies, screen time is an important consideration for us. AAP gives an idea of how often and for how long families should permit their children to interact with screens like televisions, tablets, smartphones and other devices.
AAP is an organization of 64,000 pediatricians and other medical professionals dedicated to the health of children, teens, and young adults. In this article, we examine the latest AAP screen time guidelines and explain what these new rules mean for your family.
Remember, These Are Screen Time Guidelines
Something to consider as you read is that every family and child is different and parents need to use their own parenting goals and day-to-day context to shape their own screen usage rules. The AAP even acknowledges that not every family utilizes screens the same way given the diversity of screen content and ways children can interact with devices in their everyday lives. While one child may watch an hour of kids videos, another might be actively engaged in an educational app, or chatting with a relative over Skype. Not all screen interactions are the same, and so these guidelines are meant to be a foundation for families to create their own screen usage rules. They can also help parents identify if their families have a problem with screen content consumption.
With that in mind, here are AAP's most recent screen time rules for children.
Screen Time Guidelines for 0-18 Months
It may sound surprising to some, but AAP recommends that children under 18 months of age get no screen time (including television) except for video chatting with others like distant family members and friends. This comes along with the finding that 20% of children in a TARGet Kids! study had used a handheld device daily, like a smartphone or tablet, for an average of 28 minutes by the time of their 18-month checkups. That's 28 daily minutes too many, according to the AAP. (We didn't find any information about the television-viewing habits of this study's participants.)
Even what's considered “high quality” screen content has little value for children this young.
“At that age, any learning is dependent on interacting with other humans. So even if an infant is interested in the screen and its lights and colors, the research we have to date suggests they can’t imbue these images with any meaning, and so it doesn’t seem to offer any benefit.”
AAP's guideline is also based off concerns that handheld screens usage in particular at such a young age might actually be harmful to the child's development. In that same TARGet Kids! study, researchers found that the more handheld screen time a child had, the more likely the child experienced some delay in expressive speech. To be more specific, “for each 30-minute increase in handheld screen time, researchers found a 49% increased risk of expressive speech delay.” The impacts seemed to stop there as researchers didn't see a link between screen time and other developmental delays like social interactions, body language, or gestures.
Screen Time Guidelines for 18-24 Months
Before October 2016, AAP actually recommended the same amount of screen time for all children under 2 years of age: None. That has since changed to acknowledge that more families are starting to use screens to educate and entertain younger children. If a parent wants to introduce their young child to content on a screen, they can do so and still meet AAP guidelines.
While AAP doesn't apply a daily time limit to screen usage at this age, the organization does stipulate that all screen time should be with adult supervision and high quality content. The adult supervision AAP recommends goes beyond knowing what content children are consuming on their screens. Instead, AAP says that children under 2 years should only watch and interact with screen content if an adult is actively participating in the experience with them. That is, parents should be viewing the same content at the same time, as well as talking to their child about the content they're watching, and reinforcing the content's teachable moments as it makes sense with that individual child.
We dive into what makes certain kids videos high quality at What Kids Videos Are Right for My Child?
Screen Time Guidelines for 2-5 Years
Children between the ages of 2 and 5 should be limited to one hour of screen use per day, according to AAP. Like the guidelines for younger children, all screen content should be high quality and consumed alongside an adult who is actively watching and guiding the child through the experience.
According to AAP, once a child reaches 3 years of age, his or her mind is more apt to learn social, language, and reading skills from high quality educational content. AAP emphasizes the importance of monitoring what children are watching. At this age, children are more able to learn from a variety of types of content and may pick up on messaging that's inappropriate.
What About Screen Time Guidelines for Older Kids?
AAP doesn't offer strict screen-time guidelines for children older than 5. They do, however, provide recommendations that parents can adapt for their own family screen usage as makes sense. Among the suggestions is creating screen-free zones and screen-free times in the home. Some of the recommended screen-free areas and moments include:
- Kitchen or dining room table
- Child's bedroom
- Meal times
- One hour before bed
- Car rides, except for long trips
These recommendations target rooms and times that promote face-to-face social interaction with others. AAP also emphasizes the importance of ensuring that children experience a variety of play and learning time that doesn't involve a screen. You can learn more about the AAP screen guidelines at healthychildren.org.