Screen Time for Kids: When to Say No

Cute little girl sitting on the couch using a digital tablet.

Screen Time for Kids: When to Say No

Screen time for kids is a huge topic on every parent’s mind right now because it has been getting a lot of press through the newly affirmed restrictions from the World Health Organization (WHO). Both the WHO and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) have been very vocal lately in urging parents to severely restrict screen time for kids under the age of five. The latest recommendations are for children under two years to have no screen time at all and children between two and five to have no more than an hour per day. This can be quite a challenge when screens are a pervasive part of the world we live in.

Why to Limit Screen Time for Kids

The primary objective of these organizations is to encourage physical activity, healthy social interactions between children and caregivers, and for children to get plenty of sleep. The suggested limitations of screen time for kids will help parents make sure these important goals are met. So, let’s take a closer look at when these concepts are best practiced for optimal early child development.

When to Say No to Screen Time for Kids

During Breakfast

A good time to skip screen time for kids is during the early morning cartoons. Morning is a great time for physical activity. Maybe you can set up a “wake up routine” of jumping jacks, running in place, an obstacle course, or dancing to loud music. You could also replace TV time with a morning walk or playing outdoors. Research shows that when children engage in physical activity in the morning, it helps the focus throughout the day. In a recent study, kindergarteners and first graders who were allowed physical activity during their school day were more focused and teachers were able to move on to new material faster and there were less disruptions from students in the class.

On Your Commute

Those mini TV screens in cars are great for long trips, but when children turn on the screen as soon as they get into the car, they are missing out on tons of learning experiences and opportunities for interactions. Car rides are a great time to talk and interact and share thoughts and ideas. You can play I spy with your child while you drive, picking out items on the landscape to find and guess. This challenges children’s visual skills, which continues to refine until well after a child’s fifth birthday.

Car rides are also a great time to connect with your child no matter what age they are. Babies will enjoy listening to your voice as you talk, tell stories, sing songs (yes, even singing along with the radio is great). You are teaching your baby the pause and flow of conversation as well as new vocabulary.

Older children can be engaged in little games such as “How many animals can you name that live on land?” “How many animals can you name that live in water?” Challenge their creativity, imagination, and ability to articulate their answers.

It is also important to remember that you are starting to teach your child to drive just as soon as you turn that car seat around. They are watching and learning and modeling after you from a very young age. By practicing good habits such as not texting and driving, you are setting an amazing example for your child.

At the Grocery Store

It might be boring for your child while you are comparing prices of ketchup, but watching a video or playing LEGO DUPLO train on your phone is causing your child to miss out on great learning opportunities. The grocery store is full of colors, shapes, items to count, textures to feel, sounds to hear, letters, numbers and patterns. Young children who are sitting in the cart are nice and close to you for interactions. Older children can be given circulars or coupons to find items. They can go on scavenger hunts to find items, colors, and shapes. They can find patterns, use math to add items, prices, and servings. The possibilities are endless!

At Bedtime

This is a great time to connect with your child. Make bedtime a loving routine. Maybe bath time, then read a book together. Sing a song, talk about the best part of your days, and kiss goodnight. Studies show that children who fall asleep watching a screen take longer to fall asleep and do not have restful sleep. Deep, restful sleep is critical for growth and development. Often, sleep deprivation is the source of illness and behavioral issues in young children. By keeping screens out of the bedtime routine, you’ll have opportunity for bonding and will ensure more restful sleep.

It is virtually impossible to completely avoid the virtual world that screens provide, but we can think about the times of the day when screens cause the most missed opportunities and focus on replacing those virtual experiences with real ones!

About the Author /

Dr. Aimee Ketchum is a pediatric occupational therapist and has been working in pediatrics for 20 years. Ketchum works in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at UPMC Pinnacle Hospital and lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania with her husband and two daughters. Ketchum is also the owner/operator of Aimee’s Babies LLC, a child development company.

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