How Much Screen Time Should Kids Have? Age by Age Guide

Medically Reviewed on 9/14/2021

Downsides of long screen time

Pediatricians and child psychologists have recommended setting screen time limits for children. The limits generally vary based on the age group of the children.
Pediatricians and child psychologists have recommended setting screen time limits for children. The limits generally vary based on the age group of the children.

Screens have become a ubiquitous fact of modern life for adults, teens, and young children. Laptops, devices, and mobile phones can help everybody work, play, and communicate. But major screen time can also have physical and psychological side effects. So, as a parent or a caregiver, you may want to limit your kids’ screen time.

The downsides to multiple hours of sedentary time in front of a screen include:

  • Overeating — leading to obesity and overweight
  • Interruption of sleep patterns and lack of proper sleep
  • Shortened attention span
  • Heart and circulatory problems

Unstructured playtime, fresh air, exercise, and sufficient sleep are key factors in growing up healthy. And, talking to someone over a screen doesn’t build social skills as much as real live interaction does. Long hours of daily screen time also increase the chances of your kid coming across violence, sexual content, or internet trolls and predators.

The age by age guide

Pediatricians and child psychologists have recommended setting screen time limits for children. The limits generally vary based on the age group of the children. Experts also offer age-by-age suggestions to encourage a positive online experience for kids.

Newborns and infants

Child health and psychology experts recommend that infants should have no screen time whatsoever. Children aged 2 years or younger learn from unstructured play and from live interaction with parents and siblings. The only time they should be allowed screen time is during on-screen visits, like video calls with relatives.

It’s good parenting to keep devices with screens off when not needed. These devices may also be kept away from nurseries or rooms used for playtime. You should always supervise any screen time and make sure that your tots don't have independent access to computers, phones. or other such devices.

Toddlers and preschoolers

Educational screen time can be beneficial for toddlers and preschoolers aged up to 6 years. Online recreation can include counting games, naming games, memory games, and puzzles — these can help your kid develop memory and logic.

Kids at this age may also enjoy an hour of screen time daily during weekdays, which can be increased slightly during weekends — all under adult supervision. At this age, kids also need daily physical activity. While they're indoors, storytelling, music, puzzles, and games can replace screen time.

A key parenting strategy is to guide kids to good everyday habits that'll last through their teen years and adulthood.

Preteens and beyond

By the time they're in grade school, most kids have spent time with television, computers, mobile devices, and tablets. Learning to use these and other such devices will be an important facet of their education. Most adolescents also get into playing video games and become part of social media.

At this age, excess screen time easily becomes a point of contention. The distracting draw of electronic media can severely test an adolescent’s respect for parents and rules.

As a parent of a kid in this age group, you need to discuss the issue and reach an agreement on the screen time they're allowed. You may also want to set limits like:

  • Banning the use of devices with screens at mealtimes and at 1 hour before bedtime
  • Setting an hourly limit on daily screen time
  • Balancing the use of screens for homework and entertainment
  • Setting controls on video games, which carry age-appropriate ratings
  • Keeping computers and other such devices in an area of the house where you can monitor them

How can you help?

Learning to make intelligent use of media is a major part of education. Here, you can help in several ways:

  1. Communicate — Talk about websites that are helpful, and point out those that may be a waste of time or harmful. Connect an awesome online experience with what’s going on in the real world. Explain how websites deploy ads and use personal data mined from web browsing.
  2. Offer alternatives — Afterschool sports or activities can take the place of afternoon couch time. A trip down to the mall or the main street can replace online shopping. You can also request your kids to give you a hand with cooking, yard work, or repairs.
  3. Offer homework help — On school days, help your kids with homework. That'll help them avoid the physical and psychological downsides of screen-time overload.

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Medically Reviewed on 9/14/2021
References
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychology: "Screen Time and Children."

Mayo Clinic, "Screen Time and Children: How to Guide Your Child."

Nemours Children's Health: "Screen Time Guidelines for Big Kids."

WHO: "To grow up healthy, children need to sit less and play more."