Tips for Limiting Screen Time

adorable little boy watching tv

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under two years old have no screen time, and that older children are limited to one or two hours a day. We followed the stricter guidelines suggested by Zero to Three of no screen time under two, a 30 minute daily maximum from two to three years old and an hour maximum as children are older. The idea around these guidelines is to consider them for your family. Stop and think, how much time do your children spend interacting with screens? What are they watching or doing during that time? How do you measure the educational value of programs? How do you follow-up to what they viewed?

Here are a few basic guidelines to help reign in screen time:

  • No screens in their bedrooms – 30% of three year olds, 40% of six year olds and 60% of 10 to 14 year olds have TVs in their bedrooms. This is related to more viewing time per day, more consistent weight gain relative to peers and higher rates of sleep issues.
  • No screens during mealtimes – Children who are watching while eating tend to over eat. They are not learning to listen to hunger and fullness cues because they are distracted by the screens. This habit is tied to later childhood obesity.
  • No screens on playdates – This should be an easy one, but encourage them to be social when their friends are over.
  • Track it for a week – To determine if your family is at a comfortable level, start by tracking it for a week. Jot down how much time everyone in the family is on screens.
  • Find a way to be clear – I have known families that pass out half-hour tickets on weekdays and hour tickets on weekends. The idea is once the ticket is gone, their screen time is done. This makes the expectation and the use clear for all. When my girls were in elementary school, we had the simple rule of one, 30 minute program each day, and once it was over it was over.
  • Save screens in the car for long trips – If your child is on a screen in the car while you run errands, they may be above the recommended limits just by travel time.

Join me for a valuable discussion about why to limit screen time, the impact on developing attention span, academic readiness and obesity. This will include information about background media, reading on screens and guidelines about deciding on the quality of children’s programming. My workshop on Screen Time will be on June 18th from 7:00-9:00 p.m. For more information and to register, please visit

Childhood Obesity: The Answers are Simple in Theory

The commonly sited stat that one-in-three U.S. children are overweight is striking. In the last 30 years, children being overweight has doubled, and adolescents being obese has tripled. This should get your attention whether your children are heavy or not. There is a strong likelihood that overweight children will be overweight adults. These numbers represent a huge impact to our future economy and to the future of healthcare costs.

The answers given by the experts seem simple. Less screentime, healthier food choices and more exercise. That’s it.

Less Screentime: Decide your limits and stick with them.

  • Zero to Three recommends no screentime for children two years old and younger, a half-hour a day as a maximum for children two to three years old and an hour a day as a maximum for older children.
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests no screentime for children two years old and younger and two hours a day as a maximum for older children.
  • This screentime includes tablets, phones, computers and TVs.
  • Related to obesity, many of the advertisements during children’s programming is for sugary foods and fast foods.
  • Screentime tends to be a sedentary activity.

Healthier Food Choices: Learn and teach your children about healthy choices and healthy portions.

  • Encourage fruits and vegetables.
  • Encourage children to eat a wide range of healthy foods.
  • Think healthy fats, whole grains, lean meats.
  • Teach your children about foods, explore tastes and textures.
  • Encourage them to shop and prepare foods with you.

More Exercise: Get your family moving more!

  • The Center for Disease Control suggests children and adolescents should have 60 minutes of physical activity every day.
  • This should include aerobic activity, muscle strengthening and bone strengthening activities.
  • Make it fun.
  • Get moving with them!

Guidelines for Exposing Children to News Media by Age

Both local and national news tend to be dark and graphic these days. There is often talk about crime, war and poverty.

6 years old and younger – No exposure to news media

There are several reasons for this limitation

  • They understand more than we think they do, and the language of news is often stressful – From 18 months through three years old, children tend to be understanding one new word for every hour they are awake. Their vocabulary growth is amazing. The average two year old has 50 to 500 words in their working vocabulary which turns to 11,000 words by five years old. Their vocabulary tends to be smaller than what they actually can make sense of. This means, likely earlier than you thought, you should stop speaking over them and assuming they aren’t listening. It also means, if the news is on, they are likely picking up at least bits and pieces, and working to make sense of the language they hear. Talk that includes beheadings, roadside bombings or gang violence is aggressive and can be scary for a child. This goes for news radio in the car as well.
  • They have a limited understanding of time – Young children don’t understand replays. As an adult, I understand that when an explosion is being shown again and again on the news, it only happened once. When young children see a replay, to them it is happening again and again.
  • They have a limited understanding of space – You can explain all day that the war they are seeing on tv is happening half way around the world. To a young child, it is happening in their living room, and for all they know it might be just outside.
  • They are often still confused by fantasy vs. reality – I would never do this, but it would be very hard to explain to a three-year-old that Sesame Street is not a real place. They see it many days, they see people living there, occasionally they see it has changing weather and new muppets moving in and out. All of that makes it real.
  • Their imaginations tend to be far greater than their logic and reasoning – Translate, they scare easily. And, when they hear bits and pieces they tend to fill it in inaccurate ways.

7 through 12 years old – Guided exposure

  • As children are getting older, parents may wish to share news with their children. This may be a practical approach, especially since national news is often shared between students at school or addressed in some way by their teachers. Guided exposure means parents should watch news with their children, know the content of what children view online and offer open discussions following.
  • Be prepared for their questions – Parents should answer all children’s questions honest and small. This means it is fine to provide an honest answer that narrowly addresses the topic. As children want more information, they will likely ask more questions, and parents can let the questions be their guide.
  • There are lots of online sources for child-friendly news stories:
  1. Scholastic News Online
  2. Time for Kids
  3. Pitara
  4. DOGO news
  5. National Geographic Kids
  6. Science News for Students
  7. CNN Student News (this one is for middle and high schoolers)

Screen Time Limits

It seems the challenge of limiting screen time is a growing concern for parents. With TV, computers, tablets and smart phones, screens seem available to our children at every turn. When a child is complaining loudly in a restaurant or crying in a waiting room, it can be tempting and so easy to pass them a screen to quiet them down. The difficulty is the little bit of research available about screen time and very young children is negative and for older children it’s questionable at best.

The American Academy of Pediatrics continues to suggest that there be no screen time for children under two years old, and a one to two hour maximum for older children. Other researchers, including Zero to Three, suggest less is better with a 30 minute daily limit for two to three years old, and an hour daily limit for older children.

Part of the reason for these screentime limits is to leave more time for other more valuable activities. When screen time is given to children just to quiet them down, parents are missing a golden opportunity to teach the child to calm themselves. They are missing a chance to build empathy by pointing out the annoyed people around them. Screen time as a passive activity is time children could be playing, having conversations, climbing trees, coloring or reading books.

Part of the reason is the growing research that supports links between higher rates of viewing with childhood obesity, attention span concerns and later depression.

My children watch tv and as they are getting older they have their own phones. The idea is to make sure you educate yourself as a parent and make the decisions that fit your family. For more information on this topic, read Screen Time: How Electronic Media – from Baby Videos to Educational Software – Affects Young Children by Guernsey.

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