Screen Time Tips

Guest Authored By Amy M, MSOT, OTR/L

Blue Bird Day and Computer Boys

Screens are everywhere these days from schools to restaurants to stores and schools. We are constantly interacting with screens and attempting to understand best practices when interacting with them. This is particularly challenging when trying to impart good screen time practices to kids. Programming can be utilized to teach kids in interactive ways, provide motivating practice, and stay connected with people across the globe. On the flip side, this activity can also negatively effect sleep, vision, social engagement, and physical health. Screens are a huge part of the culture in the United States so it is important to think about how this medium can be used to hinder and help development.

Here are a few points to think about to help you understand best practices for screen time:

  • Age matters.  The American Academy of Pediatrics advocates that children younger than 18 months should avoid screen media unless being utilized for video chatting. They also suggest that if parents want to introduce media between the ages of 18 to 24 months then they should make sure it is quality programming and watching should be done with a caregiver to help the child understand. They recommend children between the ages of 2 and 5 be limited to 1 hour a day of high-quality programming.  After the age of 6 years, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that limits be placed on the amount and types of media consumed, while also ensuring that media use does not affect physical activity, sleep, and other holistic health areas.
  • Limits matter. It is important to set certain times or situations that are screen-free as the structure helps children learn that there are certain situations when screen media should be put away. Maybe this is mealtimes in your families, bedrooms, or certain days or hours during the week. Define times and/or places for media screen use and know that this can look different for each family.
  • Quality is just as important as quantity. Most of the discussion around screens refers to the amount of time we utilize screens. It is just as important to think about the quality of the media being consumed.  According to the Canadian Paediatric Society in an article by Lauren Vogel (2019) we should be utilizing, “meaningful screen activities that are educational, active and social over those that are passive and solitary.”  
  • Find other activities. Screens can be so alluring, which may make transitioning away from them challenging. Try to find other activities that are motivating and compelling for a child to support limits on screen media use as well as support their development in other ways. Some ideas include outside play, books, coloring, fun tactile play, dress-up, listening to music, and dancing.  Each child has their own set of unique interests, so help them discover other engaging activities. 
  • Lead by example. Children learn by example so if you are always on your phone or using screens than your child will want to be as well. This does not exactly mean you have to follow the same strict rules of 1 hour of media screen time a day but if you are asking your child to put away their screen at the dinner table then it would seem unfair for you to use yours at the dinner table. Think about the amount your child sees you interacting with screens and decide if that is something you want them to also engage in or not.  

Reflecting and implementing some of these points can be challenging. All of the generations before us did not have to reflect and think about their child’s engagement with screens as they were not as prevalent as they are today. So, we do not have any role models from our past to help us figure out rules for screens which makes it challenging for us to implement and know the best practices. Try out some of these tips and take the time to explore some of the resources below to further understand the effects of screen time and how other people are deciding to proceed with this information.  

 Children’s Hospital. (2018, December 6). How Too Much Screen Time Affects Kids’ Eyes. Retrieved January 2, 2020, from https://www.chop.edu/news/health-tip/how-too-much-screen-time-affects-kids-eyes. 

Kamenetz, A. (2018, February 6). What The Screen Time Experts Do With Their Own Kids. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2018/02/06/579555110/what-the-screen-time-experts-do-with-their-own-kids. 

KidsHealth Medical Experts (Ed.). (n.d.). Screen Time Guidelines for Babies and Toddlers (for Parents) – Nemours KidsHealth. Retrieved from https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/screentime-baby-todd.html. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics. (2018, May 1). Children and Media Tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics. Retrieved from https://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/news-features-and-safety-tips/Pages/Children-and-Media-Tips.aspx

Tips to manage kids’ screen time. (2019, June 20). Retrieved January 2, 2020, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/childrens-health/in-depth/screen-time/art-20047952.

Vogel, L. (2019). Quality of kids’ screen time matters as much as quantity. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 191(25). doi: 10.1503/cmaj.109-5767