young child looking at his ipad screen
December 14, 2022

Healthy Screen Time For Children & Toddlers

While screen time can benefit learning and development, excessive use of electronic gadgets can be detrimental to your child’s well-being. In 2022, CNN Health recorded an average daily screen use of over 4 hours among toddlers. As parents, it’s a fine line to balance between restricting your child’s screen time and introducing various e-learning apps and sites to nurture digital literacy skills. In this article, we offer 5 tips on how to limit screen time for children and the risks associated with excessive use of screens.

How Much Screen Time Should Children Have?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) provides daily screen time recommendations for each age group. Toddlers under 2 should be kept from screens except for video chatting, such as when a parent or close relative is traveling or living remotely.

Once the toddlers turn 18-24 months old, parents can start introducing small doses of screen time and co-viewing high-quality programs with their children to support understanding. Children aged 2-5 should limit their screen time to no more than 1 hour, and parents are encouraged to join their little ones in consuming interactive, educational media. There is no specific screen time limit recommendation for children aged 5 and above, but it is paramount to keep track of your child’s screen use, the time spent and the quality of the digital media.

As children enter their teenage years, parents should focus on educating healthy screen use rather than imposing digital curfews, as they are likely to backfire.

What Are the Negative Effects of Too Much Screen Time?

1. Detrimental Impacts on Early Childhood Development

One of the most crucial stages of development is the first five years of life, as it profoundly impacts children’s cognitive and social-emotional well-being. Growth occurs at warp speed as toddlers start engaging with their parents and the environment around them to build up a range of essential life skills, from sensory-motor skills and perception to differentiating facial expressions. Unstructured play is central to helping your child unlock these developmental milestones. Prolonged screen exposure, however, cuts into play time and deprives children of the opportunity to explore and experience the physical world.

2. Impeding Language and Communication

At 3-18 months, language develops readily, revolving around babbles and gestures. Passive screen time may inhibit your child’s language development at this stage. Without a strong foundation of vocabulary and comprehension skills, toddlers cannot learn as effectively from screen media as much as they do from real-world interactions. Engaging in reciprocal conversations allows the children to pick up various phonemic and syntactic segments and expand their language resources. They learn much quicker in social situations where they can interact in person, as they are encouraged to pay heed to facial expressions and social cues that facilitate communication.

3. Poor Sleep Quality

Excessive screen time can result in sleep disturbances. The blue light emitted from gadgets suppresses melatonin secretion and causes sleep delays. Moreover, engaging in stimulating TV shows and games before bed also releases adrenaline that prompts the mind and body into action, making it harder for toddlers to doze off. They end up indulging in screen time at the expense of quality sleep and academic performance.

young boys playing doing math sums with a phone

What Are the 5 Rules for Limiting Screen Time?

1. Schedule Screen-free Time

Enforce screen-free rules for specific days or hours, be it dinnertime, get-togethers, study time, or bedtime. Ask your children to put away all gadgets so that they can better engage in family mealtime conversations, reconnect, and relish quality time. Set screen-free zones throughout the house so that children will not shut themselves inside a room without you knowing what media they are consuming. Instead, encourage them to share screen time with everyone else in the family.

2. Let Children Earn Their Screen Time

Making screen time an earned privilege boosts toddlers’ motivation to conform to appropriate screen behaviors. The more they seek the reward, the more they foster a healthy relationship with portable gadgets. Let your children earn screen time by completing coursework, household chores, practicing musical instruments, and the like. Keep a note of their time spent on learning and household chores, and give your children a token or toy coins to redeem screen time. 

3. Co-view Digital Media with Toddlers 

Watching programs with your little ones gets you and your children into conversations effortlessly. Explain things they may not understand, comment on interesting things, and drum up their interests to facilitate understanding and promote meaningful interactions. On top of that, co-viewing allows parents to ensure the digital media consumed is age-appropriate, educational, and constitutes quality screen time.

4. Provide Fun, Unplugged Activities

We all know too well that children love discovering, creating, and experimenting; playtime is integral to childhood. Schedule fun, unplugged activities such as road trips, biking, board games, and picnics for a weekend getaway. Show children a gadget-free world where there could still be a lot of fun.

5. Model Appropriate Screen Time Behavior

Toddlers are fast learners and they mimic what they see on TV and in real life. If you fiddle with your phone as soon as you step into the house, they will consider this a norm and follow in your footsteps. Be mindful of how powerful your actions and words can be. Model consistent screen time behaviour that you want the children to learn from.

Embrace Digital Learning in Early Childhood

Despite the adverse effects of screen time, technologies benefit learning and cognitive development. Research from Oxford University revealed that children spending 1-2 hours of screen time had better social and emotional development than those without screen time. At Woodland Pre-Schools, our team of passionate teachers are experienced in introducing interactive technologies to accelerate your child’s learning. We have developed a Digital Citizenship curriculum that supports safe and good practice when using technology. If you are interested in enrolling your child into Woodland Pre-Schools or have questions about our curriculum or admissions process, do not hesitate to contact us. Join our free trial classes to experience the Woodland Journey and our learn-through-play curriculum.