With televisions, computers, tablets, and smartphones everywhere you turn, kids today are spending a lot of time in front of screens. In fact, according to the American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP), children spend an average of seven hours per day on entertainment media. But too much time screen time for kids can have negative effects on their development. Here's what you should know, plus some creative ways to make the most of screen-free time.
The Negative Effects of Too Much Screen Time
The amount of screen time that infants, toddlers, and preschoolers are exposed to can affect their health and development. For instance, according to the AAP, heavy media use during preschool years is associated with weight gain. The presence of a television, computer, or mobile device in the bedroom during early childhood has also been connected to fewer minutes of sleep per night, and studies have found that excessive television viewing can lead to cognitive, language, and social/emotional delays.
Recommended Screen Time by Age
The AAP offers these recommendations for screen time for kids.
- Younger than 18 months: There should be no screen time, other than video-chatting, for infants.
- 18-24 months: Choose high-quality programs, such as Sesame Street, and watch them with your children to help them understand what they're seeing.
- 2-5 years: Limit screen use to one hour per day of quality programming, and watch it with your children.
- 6 years and older: Place limits on the time and type of media that your children consume to ensure that it doesn't interfere with sleep or physical activity.
The AAP suggests setting up "screen-free zones" in your home, device curfews, and charging locations outside of your kids' bedrooms. It also offers a guide on how to set up a family media plan.
Screen-Free Ideas for Infants and Toddlers
Unplugged playtime can help you encourage creativity and build your child's social skills. To jump-start your efforts, here are some ideas for entertaining activities that don't require a TV, computer, tablet, or smartphone.
- For infants, try toys that move and make noise, or that they can manipulate themselves. Toy trains are a good option.
- Help teach your child color, texture, and taste by letting them build a fruit salad out of red strawberries, purple grapes, oranges, and green apples. When they're old enough, mix in math by letting them count how many pieces are in their bowl.
- Have your kids go on a wild animal hunt outside in your yard. Find, draw, and color pictures of creatures such as ants, snails, caterpillars, birds, or spiders.
- Create your own tic-tac-toe board by taping the game layout onto a piece of wood or the floor. Take a walk together to find small rocks and paint half with Xs and half with Os.
- Make your own bowling game using old plastic water bottles. For stability, place a small amount of sand or water in each bottle. Select a ball that's about two-thirds the height of the bottles and let the games begin. If you want a more realistic look, slosh white paint around inside your "pins" and use colored tape to give the bottles a stripe. For even more fun, paint faces on the pins.
For more ideas, head to Pinterest and search for no-mess, independent children activities or screen-free activities and resources.
Instead of allowing your kids to indulge in too much screen time, replace that digital experience with active family time. This will end up benefiting you as well because you'll be spending more time with your child. It also might even encourage you to put down your own phone or tablet.