Are My Kids Getting Too Much Screen Time?

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.

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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.”

- Dr. David Hill, a pediatrician and chair of the AAP’s Council on Communications and Media.​

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 healthy​chil​dren​.org.

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