Healthy Digital Media Exposure for Kids: How to Regulate Screen Time

In a world that is consumed by technology, it can be difficult to determine what’s considered healthy digital media exposure for kids. The American Academy of Pediatrics had previously set a general time limit of no more than two hours in front of the television for kids over the age of two, and none for children under two. However, television is no longer the only way that children are being exposed to time in front of a screen.

So, how do you regulate your screen time for children? Guiding your children to use digital media responsibly at a young age is important. Here are a few things to consider.

Defining Screen Time

With technology being used for educational purposes more than ever before, the AAP has defined screen time as “time spent using digital media for entertainment purposes.” This means that other forms of screen time exposure such as online homework are not applicable.

Issues with Too Much Screen Time

By age two, children can reap benefits from certain types of screen time exposure such as music or stories. In addition, there are now many educational programs and applications in digital media. However, these things should not be replacing things like playtime or reading a physical book as opposed to using a tablet. To aid in development, children need unstructured time doing things like playing outside with friends or siblings. Over time, too much screen time exposure for kids can lead to things such as obesity, irregular sleep schedules, disconnect between parents and children, behavior issues, or loss of social skills.

Regulating Screen Time Exposure by Age

Age makes a large difference in determining appropriate screen time exposure for kids. As your child grows, digital media will become more accessible to them, so teaching them to use digital media responsibly is important.

0-18 Months

Ideally, infants should not receive any screen time. The more face to face interaction a baby has with his/her parents aids in brain development and creating healthy parent-child relations.

18 months-5 years

This is a safe age to introduce your child to digital media. However, make sure you use it with them to regulate what they are watching and to ensure they are not being exposed for more than one hour a day. PBS is a good place to start for TV programs because of entertaining and educational shows like Sesame Street. These shows are made for children, are at a real-life pace, and do not have advertisements, limiting the potential for over stimulation.

Other positive channels of digital media exposure for kids at this age are applications used for video messaging. This correlates their digital media experience with adult interaction, which promotes healthy brain development.

6 years and older

Once your child reaches this age, it is up to the parents’ discretion to regulate what they feel is a healthy amount of screen time and digital media exposure.

According to the AAP, a healthy day for a child includes school, homework, approximately one hour of physical activity, time for family and friends, and sleep. If there is time left over, that can be screen time. However, it is important that screen time does not replace other productive activities.

As parents, you are role models for your children’s media behavior. Keep them engaged and excited about activities outside of screen time; encourage reading a book, social activities, and other options that prevent direct media use. Turn off cell phones and laptops at night, discourage screens one hour before bedtime, and make time for media-free activities together.

At the end of the day, the type of media your child is exposed to is more important than the amount of time spent on screens. Use media with your children to teach them about what they are seeing and how to responsibly use it. Remember, not all digital media is detrimental to your child; the amount of digital media available allows for creativity, interaction, and other productive forms of education. Teaching healthy habits for your child’s screen time will help him/her continue to maintain responsibility as exposure to digital media increases.

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