Toddler Tip: How to Handle Screen Time for Kids

Managing Your Child’s Screen Time

The screen time debate is often a difficult one for parents to navigate.  There are so many great kid shows, apps, and out there - and let’s face it – we all could use a little parenting R & R now and then.  But we often hear that little-to-no screen time is best for young children.   How much should we allow our kids to partake? We recently attended a parenting seminar on this topic and came away great info and recommended guidelines.

  1. Recommended NO screen time (this includes tv, ipad, smartphones, games, and computers) at all before the age of two. Brain development research shows that the flashing colors and constant movement on a screen, inhibits neuro-pathways from developing.  Your child holding a book or toy or interacting with another human being is far better for brain development.  So, as hard as it is, try to hold off until age two.
  2. Background TV counts!  Most Americans leave the TV on for hours at a time, even if they are not engaged in watching it.  This is detrimental for two main reasons.  First, often parents leave on adult appropriate shows (e.g. the news) thinking their young children will not understand the content.  But children are like sponges, absorbing everything from their surroundings and we don’t want young children to be exposed to this content too early.   Secondly, background TV distracts toddlers and young infants from focused play and human interaction, which are vital components of child development.
  3. For kids ages 3-5, keep screen time to small 20-30 minute chunks, no more than an hour a day total.
  4. When a child watches TV or plays on a handheld device he tends to “zone out”. When this happens, the brains releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain's reward and pleasure centers.   Kids need time to “come down” from that high.  Instead of TV relaxing kids, it winds their brains up and can make behavior harder to manage.  So, after each 20-minute block, be sure to let your child engage in a quiet or relaxing activity to rebound. This is why screen time is not recommended right before bedtime – the stimulus can make it difficult for a child to fall asleep and get a good night’s sleep.
  5. Remember that each child is different and can handle different amounts of screen time. For a family with multiple children, limit your screen time based on the youngest child watching.
  6. It is important to remember that rules are made to be molded, so don’t feel like you can’t have a family movie night, or let your child enjoy a movie on a rainy day. Just be mindful in your day-to-day routine.
  7. Content matters!  Make sure the content is appropriate.  You obviously do not want your child to be watching anything too violent or scary.  Ask yourself,  “is this show or game modeling positive social skills and values?”  (Twigtale experts love – a site that allows parents to research media content)
  8. Don’t forget to model the behavior you want from your kids. If you don’t want them playing with your phone, it is important that you are not constantly checking it as well.


Toddler Tip: How To Handle Screen Time For Kids was originally published on March 13, 2014. Modifications to style, arrangement, and linked sources were made on December 15, 2015.