Ryan Johnson for NPR

Screen time for kids: How much is too much?

If you're a parent, chances are you've been grappling with trying to strike the right balance between play time, down time, and - you guessed it - screen time for your child.

For those of us with young kids, this dilemma is particularly acute. Not only are we trying to find our way through the decision-making process of simply keeping kids health and safe, but now we worry about how our kids' growing appetite for everything electronic will affect them.

It seems as if, every day, new research comes out with conflicting evidence on how much screen time is too much for kids. So what's the latest? We took a look at what the experts say.

American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines for screen time: Too strict?

In 2016, the American Pediatric Association (AAP) caused a stir when it released new guidelines for screen time for kids. Considered by many to be the gold standard for all things pediatric, parents and other experts debated whether the guidelines were too strict.

Here's what the AAP said, and how others weighed in:

First, something everyone can agree on. Jenny Radesky, MD, FAAP, lead author of the policy statement by AAP recommends, "Families should proactively think about their children's media use… because too much media use can mean that children don't have enough time during the day to play, study, talk, or sleep." She adds that parents should be "media mentors" for their kids, teaching them to see media as a tool and not an end unto itself.

That said, AAP's latest daily screen time guidelines are:

  • 0–18 months: no screen time other than video-chatting
  • 18 to 24 months: less than 1 hour of high-quality programming consumed alongside parents
  • 2 to 5 years: 1 hour of high-quality programming (also viewed alongside parents)
  • 6+ years: consistent limits on screen time to ensure it doesn't detract from sleep and healthy activities

"How" versus "how much": Experts weigh in.

Last year, researchers put those guidelines to the test. In a study published in the journal Child Development, researchers from the Oxford Internet Institute found that perhaps those AAP guidelines might be too strict.

Concerned about the prevalence of smartphones and how much screen use is becoming a "staple of contemporary life," experts challenged the notion of set limits for kids.

One of the most interesting findings? Limiting screen time didn't point to positive impacts on kids (based on interviews of 20,000 parents of kids ages 2–5). Rather than limiting "raw" screen time, researchers suggest that parents focus on how they have high-quality interactions with kids as they engage with screens.

Lead author Dr. Andrew Pryzbylski notes that "Our findings suggest that there is little or no support for the theory that digital screen use, on its own, is bad for young children's psychological wellbeing" (for teenagers, moderate use might actually promote wellbeing).

A commonsense approach to screen time, tech, and kids

What both of these studies share, however, is a call to common sense.

As a recent NPR article points out, there is ample evidence that more young kids are spending time on screens. Most of us - including experts - agree that too much time is, indeed, harmful.

But apps, phones, games, and devices are everywhere. What better way to harness the creativity that tech provides than to engage kids in these activities in ways that are intentional and purposeful rather than based on arbitrary limits? That, also, is what studies show.

So if you stress over every minute your child spends on an iPhone, instead consider asking yourself how you're engaging with your child creatively and intentionally with the wonders that technology brings to us each day.

Pablo Capurro

Co-Founder of Papumba*

*Papumba is one of the U.S.'s top three educational app developers. We fully embrace the idea that young kids get the most out of technology when parents and kids engage in digital experiences together. We design our apps with this in mind.

Along with other committed developers of educational apps, Papumba is dedicated to improving children's access to quality experiences with apps and technology. Learn more about Papumba Academy by visiting www.Papumba.com

Recent Posts