Parents, How Much Screen Time is Too Much?

by Myla Cruz

Pinpointing what is a healthy amount of screen time for toddlers and preschoolers is something parents and experts have struggled with for years. Of course, no one wants to steal the joy of Sunday morning cartoons from their little ones, but balancing out tv watching allows for other important activities like reading and playing outside. 

According to new guidelines published by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) this month, kids ages two-to-five should spend no more than one hour a day watching television or using tablets and other digital media devices. Additionally, screen-time should actually be avoided completely for kids below the age of two.

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The recommendations from the APA make a differentiation between the benefits of playing interactive games and watching high-quality programming with your children versus plopping them down in front of the tele. There’s also the common modern crutch of handing your toddler your iPad when they’re being fussy or turning on the cartoons as a distraction. 

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Dr. Jenny Radesky M.D, lead author of the statement, points out that many parents may rely on digital media to keep their kids occupied when giving them their full attention isn’t an option, such as during a plane ride or a medical procedure. In these cases, Radesky explains, utilizing digital media can be a positive tool. 

"I have been so grateful for movies or apps on my phone when I've been stuck in the emergency room with my son, sitting at the airport with flight delays, or trying to get them to stay calm during a blood draw," Radesky, a developmental behavioral expert and pediatrician at University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children's Hospital, told "However, I do feel that handing a child a mobile device when they're crying or upset may not be helpful in the long run. First, it may reinforce the negative behavior, as the mobile device may be seen as a reward.  The child thinks, oh great I'll do that again next time! Second, it distracts the child from what they were feeling, rather than letting them feel it, express it, and get some help from an adult problem-solving around it."

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The new guidelines from the APA go on to include other recommendations for utilizing digital media in your little one’s life, including banning digital media use an hour before bed, turning off devices when not in use, and keeping bedrooms and mealtimes totally screen-free. 

And while a focusing on limiting screen time in young children is absolutely emphasized, parents don’t have to banish the activity from their child’s life completely. The important thing, Dr. Radesky assures, is to interact with children during digital-media use, so that they can apply the content scene on television into the real world around them. 

Have your own thoughts on screen time for kids? Tell us in the comments. 

Watch on Z Living: Birth Days, which chronicles the non-stop adventures of parents—and their newborns—as they spend their first six weeks together. See a sneak peek here.

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