Screen Time: What, When, Where, and How Much!?!?

Many parents have questions about their child’s internet, ipad, computer, video game, and TV use.  This topic comes up in therapy sessions as parents try to figure out how much “screen time” is reasonable, what apps are okay for their child to use, and how to limit screen time at home.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has published several studies on children’s electronics use. They recommend:

For young children:

  • Children under age 2 can’t learn from electronics.  They need to explore with their hands and interact with people to learn.
  • Children under 18 months should not have “screen time” (aside from video-chatting with a caregiver present).
  • For children ages 3-5,  well-designed television shows and apps can improve learning and social skills.  However, just because an app is listed as “educational” doesn’t mean children will actually learn from it.  AAP recommends apps created by Sesame Workshop and the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS).

For school aged children and adolescents:

  • Turn off electronics during homework time.
  • Do not put televisions or other devices in children’s bedrooms.
  • Prioritize sleep (8-12 hours, depending on child’s age ) and physical activity (1 hour per day).
  • Have screen-free times (e.g. family meal times, before bed) and screen-free zones (e.g. no screens in bedrooms)

Most parents know about concerns regarding excessive media use.  The AAP notes several concerns, including:

  • Obesity, even in children as young as 2 years.
  • Less sleep, especially if the electronics are in the child’s bedroom (this is true even in infants!).
  • Delayed learning, delayed social and emotional development, and difficulties with language skills and difficulties with social/emotional development

Parent use of electronics can also be a concern. Children pick up parents’ habits and model their behaviors – including how they use media.  As parents use electronics more often, the number of parent-child interactions decreases.

What about social media?

  • The amount of time on social media can increase symptoms of depression (more time on social media leads to increased symptoms of depression).
  • How a child/teenager uses social media is also linked with mental health.  “Passive” use of social media (not engaging with other users, scrolling through content without talking to others) can increase symptoms of depression.
  • Cyberbullying can negatively impact both the child/adolescent bullying others and the child/adolescent being bullied.
  • Concerning health behaviors are linked with media use. For example, exposure to substance use, sexual behaviors, disordered eating, and self-harm on the internet can lead to a child or adolescent showing concerns in these areas.

What about the good things?

There are plenty of positive things about electronics as well!  In the right situation (with adults, using educational shows/apps), young children can learn words and activities through electronics.  Video-chatting improves communication with family and friends, and social media gives young people a feeling of community.  Social media and the internet can give resources and networks to children and teenagers who may be looking for support (for example, gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, and transgender youth may find support networks more easily online).

Take-home messages:

  • What a child watches/uses is important! For very young children, quality apps and content can be found through the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS).
  • How a child watches/uses media is also important. For all children- but particularly very young children – parents should be engaging with them as they use electronic media.
  • Setting up a Family Media Plan can be helpful in creating rules before problems happen.  The AAP has designed an interactive Family Media Plan tool that is helpful for families to make a thoughtful, thorough plan.  They also have a Media Time Calculator to balance electronics time with other important daily activities
  • Common Sense Media is a good website for parents looking for information about movies and video games.
  • Find some good information about parental controls for all electronics (tablets, TV, cell phones, etc) here.



Media and Young Minds. (2016). Pediatrics, 138(5).

Media Use in School-Aged Children and Adolescents. (2016). Pediatrics, 138(5).

Children and Adolescents and Digital Media.  (2016).  Pediatrics, 138(5).


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