We all spend a lot of time looking at our smartphones and tablets, but how much screen time is too much for preschoolers?
Some screen time can be helpful—watching educational programming, playing interactive games that promote learning, or video chatting with relatives. But beyond that, screen time can take children away from the active play, interactive learning, and rest time they need.
Screens are a part of daily life for children as well as adults, so balance is the key: neither keeping kids away from them altogether nor using them as “babysitters.” What are the best ways to achieve this balance? Some good practices include:
Setting limits on screen time. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has recommended that children between the ages of 2 and 5 should have no more than one hour of screen time per day, which should be of high-quality programming. Parents should schedule other activities for their children and encourage outdoor or social play.
Also, turning off the screens well before bedtime promotes healthy rest—for adults as well as children! The AAP has developed a “Family Media Plan” tool that parents can use to establish good media use habits for their families.
Researching games, apps and programs for your children. Kidshealth.org advises “There are thousands of apps and games that claim to be educational, but not all of them are. Search online to see which ones educators and doctors consider the best.” Parents should look for games and apps that promote creativity or problem-solving skills when possible. As for television programs, make sure that the programs they are watching are educational—that they are age-appropriate and promote healthy values and positive messages.
Interacting with your children during screen time. The AAP recommends: “Parents of young children should watch media with their child, to help children understand what they are seeing.” During TV time, you can ask your children questions about what they think about the action on-screen, such as “why do you think [this character] did that?” “how do you feel about what just happened?” Similarly, if your children are engaged in educational games, you can play along, asking questions about what they are playing. All of these activities will make screen time more than just a passive exercise.
Modeling good behavior. As we note above, everyone uses their screens. This gives parents the opportunity to model healthy screen interaction so that children pick up good habits, such as turning off televisions and devices during meals and otherwise displaying limits on when to engage in screen time.
Using technology to engage, not to distract. Australia’s Raising Children Network notes “Playing on a device in boring situations will usually distract your child, but it can mean your child misses an opportunity to learn social skills like how to act in public, or how to manage boredom in creative ways. It can also mean your child ends up relying too much on technology for something to do.”
Obviously, screens have become a regular part of the social and educational environment. Starting your child early with good screen time habits, and keeping screen time as interactive as possible, will help ensure that these devices become beneficial tools for your child’s development.