Your Child's Screen Time: Everything You Need to Know

So you pur­chased a new phone or tablet for your child and you’re not sure how to inte­grate screen time into your child’s life. Or per­haps your child is act­ing out and you’re wor­ried the device is to blame. We get it. Par­ent­ing in a tech age is a tricky business. 

That’s why we col­lect­ed all the key infor­ma­tion you need to con­sid­er about screen time and chil­dren into this one handy resource. We hope this insight helps you stay informed and con­fi­dent when deal­ing with set­ting screen time rules for your family.

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How Much Screen Time is Too Much For Children?

This is the No. 1 ques­tion par­ents ask (and we’ve asked it many times our­selves). We like to think there’s a mag­i­cal com­bi­na­tion of hours and min­utes that gives kids all the advan­tages of inter­act­ing with tech­nol­o­gy with­out any of the neg­a­tive side effects. For a while, thanks to the Amer­i­can Acad­e­my of Pedi­atrics, it seemed like that was possible .

The AAP, an orga­ni­za­tion of 64,000 pedi­a­tri­cians and oth­er med­ical pro­fes­sion­als, released strict rec­om­men­da­tions for screen time for chil­dren under 5. They warned against ANY screen time for chil­dren under 18 months of age, and only one hour of screen time a day for kids between the ages of 2 and 5. Learn more about the AAP rec­om­men­da­tions in our deep dive, Are My Kids Get­ting Too Much Screen Time?.

But hold on a moment…

Is Too Much Screen Time Really That Problematic?

Just last year researchers pub­lished two stud­ies that call the AAP guide­lines into ques­tion. These stud­ies sug­gest that the exact amount of time your child spends on a screen might have less impact than you think. What’s more, they show that let­ting your child spend more than an hour a day on a device could be beneficial! 

These stud­ies indi­cate that the real cul­prit for behav­ioral and devel­op­men­tal issues in chil­dren isn’t how much time your child spends on a screen, it’s the nature of their screen use. Does your fam­i­ly set rules for tech­nol­o­gy use? Does your child watch high qual­i­ty kids videos or play with edu­ca­tion­al apps? Are you involved in your child’s screen use? Or, more impor­tant­ly, are you using devices to dis­tract or calm your child instead of teach­ing them to deal with strong emo­tions in healthy ways? All of these con­sid­er­a­tions are more like­ly to deter­mine whether your child devel­ops prob­lems from screen use.

Read more about the 2017 stud­ies and hear from the researchers them­selves in Does Too Much Screen Time Make Kids Addict­ed?.

When Should I Change My Child's Screen Habits?

There are a hand­ful of com­mon behav­ioral changes to watch out for if you’re con­cerned your child might be suf­fer­ing from unhealthy screen use. Take note if your child starts valu­ing screen time more than what you feel is nor­mal. If your child is no longer inter­est­ed in things they used to love to do, or if they con­stant­ly ask for a device, they may need your help reg­u­lat­ing their screen time or the nature of their screen use. Here are a few more warn­ing signs to watch out for:

  • He or she uses the device to feel bet­ter after hav­ing a bad day.
  • You notice your child appears tired through­out the day or isn’t get­ting enough sleep.
  • Your child com­plains or throws a tem­per tantrum when you tell them it’s time to turn off the device.

Head over to 10 Signs It’s Time to Change Your Child’s Screen Time and Habits for the full list.

How Can I Set Screen Time Rules in My Home?

One of the most impor­tant steps in pro­mot­ing healthy screen time for your fam­i­ly is cre­at­ing a fam­i­ly screen plan. The fam­i­ly screen plan estab­lish­es rules and expec­ta­tions for your child’s screen time. It helps you decide: 

  • When and how often your child is allowed to inter­act with screens.
  • Where in the home your child is per­mit­ted to use the device.
  • What apps and kids videos your child can inter­act with dur­ing their screen time. 

To get start­ed, con­sid­er where in your home you want your child to be when they are on a device. You may want to make the din­ner table a no device zone,” allow­ing your fam­i­ly to social­ize dur­ing din­ner­time. Ban­ning devices from the bed­room gives you more oppor­tu­ni­ty to keep an eye on what your child is watch­ing and pre­vents them from stay­ing up all night on their favorite app. You may also want to make cer­tain apps and sites off-lim­its so your child is only inter­act­ing with the best fun and edu­ca­tion­al kids apps and videos.

You also need to deter­mine how much you plan on par­tic­i­pat­ing in your child’s screen time. Some par­ents pre­fer to lim­it their child to one or two safe, kids apps like Jel­lies. Some devices come with spe­cial fea­tures that pre­vent your child from leav­ing an app. Oth­er par­ents take on a more active role by super­vis­ing their child’s screen time. 

We talk more about this and oth­er screen time bound­aries in How to Cre­ate Your Fam­i­ly Screen Plan.

Are There Ways to Make Screen Time Rules Fun?

Of course! Break out the Sharpies and card­board box­es, or hunt down a glass jar and some mar­bles, because the oppor­tu­ni­ties for mak­ing screen rules fun are end­less. One of our favorite ideas involves cre­at­ing a device deposit box where chil­dren place their phones and tablets dur­ing din­ner­time and bed­time. You can also con­struct a cre­ative device jail box where chil­dren leave their devices when they don’t fol­low the rules. 

Some fam­i­lies use a rewards sys­tem to deal with screen time. Instead of just set­ting a dai­ly time lim­it, chil­dren com­plete chores or healthy activ­i­ties, like read­ing a book and play­ing out­side, to earn screen time. You can print out cus­tomized stick­ers or labels to use as tokens for screen time, or use things around the house like that jar and marbles. 

We com­piled a list of some of the best screen time man­age­ment ideas in Man­age Your Child’s Screen Time With These Cre­ative and Fun Tech­niques.

Where Can I Find More Tech Resources For Parents?

We hope this mas­ter resource on screen time for chil­dren answers all of your ques­tions. For more infor­ma­tion on oth­er tech par­ent­ing top­ics, check out the Jel­lies blog. You’ll find resources on dig­i­tal assis­tants like Alexa, social media shar­ing tips, video tuto­ri­als, and answers to pop­u­lar par­ent­ing top­ics like:

Want to try Jel­lies? Click here to down­load the Jel­lies app.