Screen Time: How Much is Too Much for your Kids?

There has been a lot of controversy over the amount of screen time kids should be allowed to have per day. Some parents argue that young kids should not be exposed to screens at all, while others sway between considering the benefits of an educational program or app for their kids and worrying about the negative effects this might have on their little ones. As kids grow older, the issue of screen time leads to more frustration, since they feel they never have enough and parents are struggling to keep a balance. So, when it comes to time spent in front of  a screen, how much is too much?

Is screen time bad for your kids?

First of all, let’s define the term. When listening to it, most people think of the time spent on a device, such as a computer, a mobile phone or a tablet, for fun. However, it is broader than you might think. More specifically, when referring to screen time, we actually include every activity performed in front of a screen, be it a TV, computer or any other type of screen. So, playing computer games? Watching TV? Making a video call to say hi to their favorite aunt?  Browsing the internet to find information for an essay at school? All these activities can be considered as screen time!

So, we can’t just say that screen time is bad for kids, since there are plenty of things they may be doing in front of a screen and some of them can actually be really beneficial for them. Generally speaking, activities that require the use of a screen fall into four categories based on whether the user’s behavior is:

  • Passive (the person does not need to perform an activity other than just receiving input, e.g. when watching TV)
  • Interactive (the person both receives input and performs actions, e.g. when playing games)
  • Creative (the person uses technology to create something, e.g. when using software to produce music)
  • Communicative (the person uses technology to communicate with another person, e.g. when making a video call)

Thus, we can’t say that screen time by itself is negatively affecting kids. As you may have realized by now, although the time they spend looking at a screen is important, we should also consider the type of activities they perform during that time.

Surely determining a certain amount of time to be spent in front of a screen can be really tricky, since you have a lot of different aspects to take into consideration depending on the age, the needs and the activities of your kid. However, as we’re going to see below, the younger the kid, the easiest it is to set a screen time limit, since scientists have already provided us with clear-cut guidelines.

Moderation is best!

screen time
Photo by pressfoto

Luckily, last year’s guidelines by the World Health Organization included some recommendations regarding screen time for kids too. In their document “WHO guidelines on physical activity, sedentary behaviour and sleep for children under 5 years of age“, they recommend that infants less than 12 months old should spend no time in front of a screen at all. However, this is not because screens themselves will harm babies. What WHO is actually concerned about is making sure that infants are active and their needs for sleep and human interaction are covered. That is why they also recommend that babies are not left in a restrained position (e.g. on high chairs, strollers, etc) for more than an hour. The same rules apply for toddlers younger than two years old, although now video chatting is allowed, since it is a way for toddlers to interact with others.

Provided they are supervised, kids aged 2-5 can have as much as an hour of screen time. However, this should be quality time too. Watching an educational program or engaging with an interactive educational app can really benefit a child, especially if kids are given the chance to share the experience with another person. Apart from their educational benefits, these activities can become great opportunities for kids to interact with other people and develop their communication skills.

So, as long as you make sure that your kids spend a little quality time in front of a screen and this is does not inhibit their social interaction and physical ability, there’s nothing to worry about! Screen time can be good time!

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