How Much Screen Time is Okay?
November 30, 2017
How much screen time should I allow for my little one?
As a mother in this day and age, you’ve probably asked yourself this question. Digital technology plays an enormous role in our lives, and it can be difficult to avoid, or even just to limit. The fact is, there is no straightforward answer to this question— the screen time you allow (or don’t allow) your little one depends on a variety of factors.
What Is Screen Time?
When we use the term ‘screen time’, we’re referring to any type of smart phone, laptop, television, tablet… and the time spent using them for anything other than work or schoolwork. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, or AAP (who very recently met to discuss this exact subject), screen time is “the time spent using digital media for entertainment purposes.” Using a laptop for online homework, for example, does not count as screen time.
How Bad Can It Be?
In short— very bad. And not just for babies and infants.
Banning screen time for your baby altogether is vital, not only for brain development, but the development of healthy parent-child relationships. You can’t connect with your little one when you (or they) are distracted by a screen, and they can’t make sense of the bombardment of sound and imagery anyway.
Dr. Yolanda Reid Chassiakos has been studying this subject for years. Her explorations are published among others in “Children and Adolescents and Digital Media Technical Report”, where she makes a compelling argument against screen time for little ones.
“The noise and activity of a screen are distracting for a child,” Chassiakos said. This is true even if they aren’t directly seeing the screen— a mother breastfeeding while watching television, for example, may be overstimulating her baby with the lights and sounds from what she is watching. This causes distress and sleeping problems for little ones, and encroaches on necessary face-to-face interaction. Checking your phone instead of maintain eye contact when interacting with your infant inhibits brain development. This seemingly insignificant lack of attention may even cause behavioral issues growing up.
With this in mind, you should limit screen time for your little one based on their needs and age group.
For Babies 18 Months or Younger
There is no reason for a baby this age to have any screen time at all. However, some parents have argued for one exception: live video chat with far-away relatives who they otherwise would not be able to interact with. As a parent, this is for you to decide— does the benefit of hearing Grandma’s voice for a few minutes at a time outweigh the negatives of screen time?
For Little Ones Between 18 Months and 2 Years
Screen time should still be either completely avoided or very limited. However, educational media can be useful to teach new vocabulary, as long as parents are present to repeat these words or elaborate on what is being shown.
For Children Ages 2 to 5
The AAP has noted that as long as they are exposed to only educational programs, preschoolers could be allowed up to one hour of screen time per day. Programs such as Sesame Street are excellent, specifically because they have no advertisements, which may overstimulate. Children at this age have the ability to learn positive social and emotional behaviors, as well as literacy and math skills, from online educational workshops.
What It Comes Down To
If you have an infant, he or she should not be exposed to any screen time, until they’re at the preschool level and have the ability to gain something from the educational programs they’re exposed to. However, banning or limiting screen time for your little one isn’t enough.
As parents, we have a responsibility to set examples, connect with our children, and impose helpful rules… even if that sometimes means we have to follow them ourselves. The next time you’re surfing the web or scrolling through social media while you’re with your child, remember the effect you have. Put the phone down and limit screen time for the both of you. It definitely can’t hurt!