Children and Screen Time

SEPTEMBER 30, 2019

“Limit your children’s screen time.” It is easy when stressed and in a hurry to use the TV as a babysitter, and children may seem to want screen time more than anything else. It seems to make a great reward and a useful distraction. Responding to media use with a focus on your child’s well-being requires conscious effort and firmness. For those of us who would like some support to help guide our efforts, here are some guidelines on how to appropriately limit children’s screen time:

How Much is Too Much?

  • Children under the age of 2 should avoid screen entertainment use in general. Children under the 6-18 months should have no screen time except for video chats with family and friends. For children 18-24 months, media use should be limited, and you should always have a caregiver or parent participating with the child. 

  • Children ages 2-5 should have no more than an hour of screen time a day with care taken to provide only educational, high-quality programs. Preschoolers especially need parents to be available to explain the things they are watching that may not make sense. 

  • From ages 5-18, parents should set consistent limits on the amount of screen time. In general, it is recommended to not be more than 1-2 hours a day. Whenever media use takes away from health, family time, and sleep habits it should be lessened. 

Potential Risks for Too Much TV

  • Sleep. Researchers at Brown University, children are more likely to have issues obtaining regular amounts of sleep the more hours of TV they watch per day. 

  • Obesity and lack of active playtime. Research shows that the risk for obesity rises with the amount of time children spend watching TV. Children who spend large amounts of time in front of a screen have less time available to play outside. Additionally, they may find it more difficult to come up with creative games outdoors on their own; they depend on TV programs and games to entertain them. Additionally, TV commercials regularly display advertisements for unhealthy foods and fast-food restaurants. 

  • According to the Brown University Child and Adolescent Behavior Letter (2014), research shows that children who have a television in their own bedroom tend to score lower academically than children who do not.

Tips for Success

As stated before, the hard part is knowing how to limit screen time in a media-saturated society. Below is some advice on how to set healthy habits for your children. 

  • Teach by example. Children will learn the most from watching the adults in their lives. So, the first step to helping children have healthy technology use is to create healthy habits in ourselves. 

  • Set time limits and rules for media use, and make sure that they are consistently followed by babysitters and anyone who monitors your children. 

  • Try to encourage your children to participate in outdoor, physical activities. 

  • Avoid having the TV on as a “background noise” when no one is watching it. Turn off the TV during meal times.

  • As needed, take a day or even a week without using the TV or other forms of multimedia entertainment. 

  • Instead of using screen time as a reward or a punishment, set healthy time limits and keep them consistent. Help your children understand why media use is limited. 

  • Keep computers and TVs in family-shared areas rather than bedrooms. This will help to monitor the type of media that the children are viewing and allow for shared conversations about what is viewed. Use filtering programs for mobile devices, computers, and television to protect children from inappropriate media.  

Every effort to help children learn to keep an appropriate amount of screen entertainment time makes a difference in their health and well-being. Despite the difficulty, each of us can likely improve our media use habits in some way. We and our children will benefit. 

From: Screen Time: A Guide for Parents. (2014). Brown University Child & Adolescent Behavior Letter, 301-2. Retrieved from 

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