Screen Time for Toddlers: How Much is Too Much?

If you take a look around at the parents of young children, you’ll find a wide range of relationships to the phone, tablet, and TV screens.

Some parents try to keep all different types of technology away from their little ones for as long as possible.

Others go completely in the opposite direction and let their kids play with a tablet for hours on end. Most folks fall somewhere in the middle, but is that the best way to go?

There’s a lot of information out there about how much screen time is best for toddlers, and it can be tough to tell the difference between fact and fiction.

Let’s take a look at some of the best information available about what levels of screen time are and are not acceptable for your toddlers.

Limiting Screen Time is Important

Before we go any further, let’s focus on one important point: the broad agreement among experts is that toddlers (ages 18-months to 5 years) should have strict limits placed on the amount of screen time they are allotted for the day.

This includes phones, tablets, laptops, TVs, and anything else where a child might be able to play Angry Birds or watch Moana.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that this time be limited to a total of one hour or less each day.

Sometimes when I tell people this, they don’t have much of a reaction right away. However, after they take a second to process what a short amount of time one hour is, the response is a little different.

How long have you spent on a computer or phone today? How long have you spent just reading this article? I’m a bit of a fast reader, but it took me six minutes to read this article when it was finished. If I were a toddler, that would be 10% of the total time I should spend online all day.

Socialization – Key in Social Development

One problem people identify when it comes to increased screen time is that the time in front of a tablet often comes at the expense of time the toddler would have spent interacting with real, live people.

Socialization is much more important for toddler development than screen time.

During these developmental years, it’s critical that toddlers have the time to see how humans react to all sorts of situations. Children can only learn this through direct, human interactions.

As much as the people in a YouTube video might talk to your child about, say, good manners, nothing will replace actual practice with this at the dinner table or conversations with a parent about what having good manners means.

When you take a look at your child’s screen time, think specifically about how their time playing games or watching videos might be affecting their time to socialize. Remember to take a broad view of socializing as well; your child is watching you and the other adults they see all the time, even when you don’t notice they are watching.

Digital Content May Become Addictive

Screen time may become addictive for toddlers

Becoming addicted to technology or TV is a real risk of unregulated screen time.

There are a few signs to be on the lookout for in regards to determining whether or not your child is addicted to technology.

First warning sign: if other activities begin to take a backseat compared to playing with their tablet or technology preoccupies their thoughts and conversations.

If they struggle to limit how much time they are using a tablet or TV, and tantrums or arguments surround putting these devices away (or even using them), your child may be developing an addiction.

Does your child always want to have their phone or tablet nearby, even at the dinner table? This may be another sign that technology use has turned into a problem, and will begin to interfere with socialization.

Create Technology Free Bedtime Habits

Creating a technology free bedtime routine helps limit screen time for your toddler

Using technology in the evening has been shown to keep your brain alert, making it difficult to “turn your brain off” at night.

It’s important to have some tech-free time before bed to help wind down and relax after the day.

The National Sleep Foundation found that later bedtimes, less time spent sleeping and being sleepy during the day are all consequences of using electronics in the evening.

Try keeping all bedrooms electronic free to help promote healthy bedtime behaviors.

Focus on Fun, Educational Content

While the media landscape can be a real minefield, it’s also true that children today have access to lots of high-quality children’s programming.

However, with the ability to see the bad stuff comes the ability to see the good. You can find lots of value in giving your child educational content that stimulates their natural curiosity and helps them learn.

When it comes to kids, do your best to make sure all the videos they watch will help them learn something specific, like new words or shapes.

Try to stay on top of what they’re watching each day, and take time time to talk with them about the same subjects they’ve been learning.

Reinforcing the content of the videos will help them apply what they’ve learned and give you even more opportunities for purposeful interactions with you little ones.