Screen time is a controversial and polarizing topic. My goal with this post is not to be moralistic or present opinions, but to share what current data and best practices are stating. The data present is compiled from recommendations established by the World Health Organization and American Academy of Pediatrics; research by the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development study; and a recent peer reviewed article in JAMA Pediatrics by Sheri Madigan. I’m not going to delve into research methods here, but if this topic interests you, I’d suggest doing your own digging. Ultimately, each family and each child are unique, so what works for someone else may not work for you. Trust your gut and keep raising your little humans!

Under 18 Months — Current recommendations call for no screen time for babies and toddlers under 18 months. Children under 18 months learn best from live presentation, so digital media isn’t developmentally appropriate as it pulls focus from valuable learning opportunities. The exception would be video chatting. Between 18 and 24 months of age, you can begin to introduce digital media. Choose high quality media and watch along with your child.

2-5 Years — An hour a day of high quality screen time for kids in this age group can provide developmental benefit. Much more than that has been linked to lower thinking and language test scores. 7 hours or more of screen time has linked to structural changes in the brain which are visible on an MRI. Some of the best digital programming will challenge motor, social, critical thinking, and communication skills. Common Sense Media can help you to research appropriate content. You can also use parental controls on the internet, TV, streaming services, and devices. Watch content along with your children or remain nearby and available. Have conversations about what content your child views and why she enjoys it. Point out commercials and ads to discuss the difference between these and factual, non-biased information. Increase engagement by singing and dancing along to TV shows or movies and asking educational questions.

Older Children — As your child gets older, it’s important that they are digitally literate. As a family, you can decide what types of and how much screen time are appropriate for your children. Continue to encourage high quality digital content. Make sure that in addition to screen time, your child is able to engage in unstructured play and be physically active. Continue to normalize discussions of everyone’s digital media consumption. As your child gets older, she may encounter content that is different than what your choose to present at home. Talk to her about how to tell if a website is reputable, what to do when presented with pop ups, and how to handle being confronted by content that makes her uncomfortable. Talk about how the internet is created by humans, so not all content out there is safe or factual.

Teens — As your child enters her teen years, she’ll begin to face many of the same screen time concerns as adults. Blue light can disrupt sleep. Consider having a device curfew each night (or only on weeknights). Charge devices outside of bedrooms to avoid the temptation of late night scrolling. Work with your teen to develop good sleep hygiene and eliminate reliance on background TV to fall asleep. Keep in mind that experts consider safe social media use to be developmentally appropriate for teens. However, social media use lights up dopamine receptors in a similar way to drug use or other addictions. Start creating healthy social media boundaries now to prevent issues later. Make sure that your teen has an unplugged activity that she loves. Designate certain rooms, times of day, or family activities as unplugged time. For example, no phone use during dinner. If you need to put parental controls on devices, there are many great options available. Encourage your child to avoid screen time while working on school assignments. This has been shown to improve performance; additionally, this creates healthy habits for college and the workplace, not to mention that she’ll probably finish her school work faster. Remember that your teen is looking to you for cues on appropriate digital media usage (even if it doesn’t seem like it), so make sure to practice what you preach and start healthy conversations about digital content. Conversations about digital media at this age may include topics like cyber bullying, sexting, and use of personal information.

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The views expressed in this blog are not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any condition and should not be substituted for medical or nutritional advice.