Screen Time Rules (and why they matter)
Before I became a mama, there were a lot of things I had ideas about. What to feed my kids, the way we’d speak to each other, the types of activities we’d participate in, the amount of time they’d spend in front of the television. To be honest, I clichély assumed that I could excel as a mother in all of these spaces – that somehow, my kids would always listen and obey, love organic vegetables, never get their dirty hands on the sofa, and prefer playing in the dirt to watching a tablet.
Like so many of us realize very quickly when we become parents, cultivating good patterns and rhythms with our children is hard and it takes work. I’ve never found this truer than with screen time – so let’s talk about it. And before you read another word, I want you to remember that there are absolutely days when the television never shuts off and you keep handing them your phone and you just really need a break. And you know what? That’s okay. That’s what new days and do-overs are for.
Ok, So What Exactly Are the Rules?
Today, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is a go-to resource for most parents when it comes to many of the “rules” around raising our children. The AAP updated their recommendations related to screen time in 2016.
There are 6 “guiding” suggestions and recommendations, related to both age of the child(ren) and things that may help families achieve these recommendations.
– > 18 months: Basically, screen time is a no at all times, with the exception of video chatting (like Zoom or Facetime).
– 18-24 months: Typically, this is the time most families are introducing the use of screens to their children. The AAP does not clarify a specific length of time daily that is appropriate, but they do distinguish “high quality” age-appropriate programming. They also recommend that care takers watch with the child(ren), assisting in listening and understanding.
– 2-5 years: In this age range, the AAP does encourage no more than 1 hour of
“high quality” age-appropriate programming per day. They also continue to recommend that care providers watch with the child(ren), helping them to understand what they are viewing and learn to apply it to their own worlds.
– 6+ years: Again, the AAP does not have a specific daily viewing time recommendation here. Their recommendations encourage consistency related to quality of material and amount of time the child(ren) is allowed to use the screen. A specific point is also made that children should NOT be replacing healthy behaviors like sleep, rest, and physical activity with screen time.
The AAP also gives families these suggestions to (hopefully) make it easier to uphold the previous 4 recommendations.
– Be really clear with your family about Media Free Times and Locations. This may look different for each family – but it could include cars, bedrooms, around the dinner table, during breakfast, etc. Many families also choose to stop ALL screen usage after a certain time each evening.
– Communicate Your Media Usage Rules well. The proliferation of screens is hard to push back against, so make sure your child(ren) understand the proper usage of media, both as it relates to time and safety, respect, and good “citizenship” online.
Ok, Great. But What’s the Big Deal?
Without question, our children are absolutely immersed in a digital world. It’s everywhere – and it’s hard, really hard – to be firm in boundaries around it all. But it does matter. Excessive screen time can significantly impact the health of our littles – at all ages – mentally, physically, and emotionally.
– Disruption in sleep rhythms: Screen time exposure can cause children to sleep less and/or have trouble falling and staying asleep.
– Obesity: Excessive media use is linked to weight gain and increases the risk of childhood obesity.
– Delayed learning and skill(s) development: These delays may show up in attention, thinking, language, or social skills – potentially related to the increased consumption of media and the lack of healthy interaction with the adults and the world around them.
– Sexting/Privacy Concerns: Many older child(ren) do not understand how to safely use social media and it’s messaging platforms, leaving them exposed to dangerous behaviors.
– Cyberbullying: Our older child(ren) may find themselves victims (or instigators) of this new social form of degradation.
– Risky/Inappropriate Behaviors: True for both young and old, the behaviors that are seen modeled on the screen can directly impact the behaviors a child(ren) then chooses to model in their own life.
– Diminished school performance: This is largely related to the inappropriate use of screens when a child(ren) should be singularly focused on their schooling.
Managing media with our children is hard. Any who say the opposite have likely never had to do it. As you strive to either change your family’s rhythms or build new ones, make sure you include your littles in these conversations. Model healthy boundaries with your own phone usage or television viewing. And give everyone some grace as you live inside these limits – while it may be hard initially, I think most of us do find that less screen time quickly leads to some pretty rewarding alternative experiences.
If you’re interested in more extensive reading and learning related to this topic, here are two of the AAP’s Policy Statements concerning media usage in our children:
Media Use in School-Aged Children and Adolescents (AAP Policy Statement)
Media and Young Minds (AAP Policy Statement)
Cheering for you!