Screen Time and Kids: What are the Recommendations?

According to the gold standard of research sources, The American Association of Paediatrics (AAP), children under the age of two years old should not have any screen time. That means watching television, looking at a mobile phone or a tablet or any other device which has any type of screen. And older children should be limited to no more than one or two hours of screen time per day. These recommendations are largely because of what kids aren’t doing when they’re sitting looking at a screen, as well as a lack of clear benefits if they do.

Playing, interacting with others, problem solving and doing a whole range of activities simply don’t happen if a child is sitting, focused on a screen.

Language development in particular can be affected when babies spend time in front of a screen, rather than listening to conversations and actively being part of their family and social group.

But My Kids Insist They’re the Only Ones...

For most parents, restricting and/or limiting their child’s access to a screen is almost impossible. Many parents feel they’re a lone voice when they try to place some restrictions around their kids screen use. It’s true to say that since technology has advanced so much, there seems to be some benefits to children of engaging with screens – mostly for education and learning. So kids who use the argument that educational software helps them to learn, do have a point.

Speak with any teacher and they’ll agree that they’re all using some form of technology in their classroom. Technology is constantly evolving and what was cutting edge a short time ago is quickly replaced with something else.

There’s Too Much Conflicting Advice!

One of the problems with screen time recommendations is that technology advances at a faster rate than experts can come up with new guidelines.  By the time it takes a group of researchers and academics to come together and agree on a new set of guidelines, there is a multitude of new technology, much of it aimed at children.

There has been some recent criticism of the AAP guidelines from educators and child development experts who say the 2001 and subsequent guidelines are well and truly out of date. Since then, technology has changed forever how all of us interact with our world. And children are not excluded.  For busy parents, it’s almost impossible   to insulate their young children from looking at a screen. Critics of these guidelines say they are unrealistic and out of date.

There are plans for the AAP to rewrite their guidelines later this year (2016) and Australian researchers from the University of Western Australia will be contributing. This means that more realistic benchmarks will be set.

How to Limit Your Child’s Screen Time

  • Avoid using screens to entertain your young children. Be mindful that babies, particularly, don’t benefit from using a screen device.
  • Encourage them to be physically active.
  • Agree on a period of time, say 30 minutes/day, total screen time when your children can watch a favourite television show, play a video game on TV or a smart phone.
  • Set a timer to go off and make this a non-negotiable finish time.
  • Encourage lots of outside play and activity.
  • Make rules about where phones and tablets can be used in the house. It’s important you keep a close eye on which sites they’re accessing and staying safe on-line.
  • Make some days “screen-free” and be clear that this applies to all family members.
  • Think about your own screen use behaviour. If you’re always checking your phone it’s not fair to expect your children to behave differently.

Screen Time Rules

  • No screen time for babies and toddlers aged less than two years of age. This recommendation is likely to change.
  • Limit to 2 hours total screen time/day for older children.
  • Keep televisions and internet connected devises out of children’s bedrooms.
  • Monitor what your children are watching.
  • Watch television and movies with your children so you can edit appropriately.
  • Turn off all screens during mealtimes and family discussions.

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About the Author:

Jane has qualifications in general, paediatric, immunisation, midwifery and child health nursing. She holds a Bachelor Degree in Applied Science (Nursing) and has almost 30 years specialist experience in child health nursing. She is a member of a number of professionally affiliated organisations including AHPRA, The Australasian Medical Writer’s Association, Health Writer Hub and Australian College of Children and Young People’s Nurses.