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Screen Time Guidelines and Alternatives: Creating a Balanced Routine for Young Children

A toddler sitting on the couch playing on a tablet or ipad.

I feel like as a parent, I’m constantly being judged for how much screen time my kids have. If I let my kids have unlimited screen time, then I’m a bad parent. But on the flip side, if I don’t allow any screen time, I’m still a bad parent. So how does one figure out the right balance?!? Psst… I’m about to help you do just that.

While screens can offer educational and entertainment value, excessive screen time can negatively impact a child’s development and well-being. So how do you know if your child has been having too much screen time? Some of the biggest clues are if your child has difficulty falling or staying asleep, has melt downs when it's time to turn the screens off, or if they have mood problems. But there's even more signs that might be harder to notice, like having lower self-image, spending less time with family and friends, or grades dropping in school. Below, I'm going to give you some guidelines for managing screen time and finding engaging alternatives to foster a balanced routine.

1. Understand Age-Appropriate Screen Time

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) offers the following recommendations for screen time:

- Under 18 months: Avoid screen time, except for video chatting.

- 18 to 24 months: If you introduce digital media, choose high-quality programming and watch it with your child to help them understand what they are seeing.

- 2 to 5 years: Limit screen time to one hour per day of high-quality programming. Co-viewing is recommended to help your child understand and apply what they are learning.

- 6 years and older: Set consistent limits on screen time to ensure it does not interfere with sleep, physical activity, and other healthy behaviors.

a video screen shot of Ms. Rachel's Learn to Talk with Ms Rachel learning video for toddlers

2. Choose High-Quality Content

Select educational and age-appropriate content for your child. Look for programs and apps that are designed to be engaging and educational. Resources such as Common Sense Media can help you find high-quality media options for children.

3. Create a Screen Time Schedule

Develop a daily or weekly screen time schedule that balances digital media with other activities. Consistency helps children understand expectations and can prevent excessive screen use. Make sure to include plenty of time for physical play, reading, and family interactions.

4. Model Healthy Screen Use

Children learn by observing their parents. Model good screen habits by limiting your own screen time, especially during family meals and interactions. Show your child that screens are just one part of a healthy, balanced lifestyle.

5. Designate Screen-Free Zones

Establish areas in your home where screens are not allowed, such as the dining room and bedrooms. This encourages children to engage in other activities and promotes healthier sleep habits.

A mom holding a tablet with two boys sitting next to her looking at the tablet

6. Engage in Co-Viewing

Whenever possible, watch programs with your child. Co-viewing allows you to discuss what you’re watching, answer questions, and help your child make connections between the content and the real world. This interaction enhances the educational value of screen time.

7. Encourage Active Play

Physical activity is crucial for a child’s development. Encourage active play by providing opportunities for outdoor play, sports, and movement-based games. Activities like building obstacle courses, playing tag or red light green light (our personal favorite), or riding bikes can keep children active and entertained.

8. Foster Creativity and Imagination

Offer plenty of opportunities for creative play, such as drawing, painting, building with blocks, or playing dress-up. These activities help develop fine motor skills, creativity, and problem-solving abilities.

A mom reading a picture book to a little girl and boy sitting on her lap.

9. Prioritize Reading and Storytelling

Make reading a daily habit. Choose a variety of books that interest your child and read together regularly. Storytelling, whether through books or imaginative play, enhances language skills and cognitive development.

10. Plan Family Activities

Spend quality time together as a family without screens. Plan activities like board games, puzzles, cooking together, or exploring nature. These shared experiences strengthen family bonds and create lasting memories. And fun fact, your kids don’t have to be school aged for this! We already have set time to do family activities with our 1 and 2 year olds.

11. Use Technology Wisely

When using technology, choose interactive and educational apps that encourage active participation rather than passive consumption. Look for apps that promote problem-solving, creativity, and learning. I'll be honest, when it comes to apps, I'm not the best for recommendations. My kids haven't gotten super into tablets yet, so we haven't had much exposure to apps just yet.

12. Communicate and Set Expectations

Discuss screen time rules and expectations with your child. Explain why it’s important to have limits and what the benefits are. Clear communication helps children understand the reasons behind the rules and makes them more likely to follow them. Even 2 year olds can begin to understand that their brain needs a break from screens and their body needs physical activity to be healthy.

By setting thoughtful guidelines and offering engaging alternatives, you can help your child develop a healthy relationship with screen time. Balancing digital media with a variety of activities supports their overall growth and well-being, laying the foundation for lifelong healthy habits.

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