Screen time is a part of life for many young children. So if your child uses electronic media, it’s important to think about what educational and other benefits your child is getting from media. It’s also important to limit your child’s screen time and help your child develop healthy screen time habits.
Screen time for babies and toddlers
Screen time for young children is about choosing quality programs and apps and developing healthy screen habits.
Child development experts also recommend limiting children’s daily screen time. Screen time limits can help lower the risks of screen time for your child, which include physical, developmental, safety and other risks.
The most recent screen time guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) say that:
- children under 18 months should have no screen time other than video-chatting
- children aged 18 months to 2 years can watch or use high-quality programs or apps if adults watch or play with them to help them understand what they’re seeing.
Your child will enjoy screen time more and learn more from it if you’re watching or playing with her. When you watch or play with your baby or toddler, it means she still gets what benefits her the most – your responses to her and the world around her.
Why screen time quality is important
Screens are a part of life for many young children.
If you’re thinking about whether your young child should watch TV or play on your phone, here’s a key question to ask: is this program, video or app good quality? Good-quality media can be good for your child’s learning, especially if it ties in with his interests or sparks his imagination.
For example, a two-year-old can get a lot out of spending 15 minutes singing along to videos of nursery rhymes with you because this develops her language and literacy skills. If it’s a video that encourages her to be active – for example, by moving along to the rhymes – that’s even better. It’s much better than if she spends 15 minutes watching online animations that advertise and sell toys.
Choosing good-quality apps and games for young children
Good-quality apps or games for young children:
- encourage creativity – for example, by getting children to draw pictures, create stories or make simple choices about which characters to be
- encourage problem-solving – for example, by asking children to match objects by shape or colour
- develop communication skills – for example, by getting children to learn other languages
- develop social skills – for example, by getting children involved in playing peekaboo online
- build on interests – for example, by getting children to build with virtual blocks if they like playing with real blocks.
Other practical things to think about include:
- age range – it’s a good idea to check that the age range for an app or game matches your child’s age
- advertising – be wary of apps that feature movie characters or popular products, because these apps are often designed to promote movies and products
- privacy settings – check the terms and conditions to see whether and how apps collect data, and make sure you’re comfortable with what data will be collected and what it will be used for.
Choosing good-quality TV programs, movies and videos for young children
Good-quality TV programs, movies and videos for young children:
- have positive messages about relationships, family and life – avoid those that make violence or bad attitudes look good
- inspire new off-screen play ideas for children after they’ve finished watching
- have good stories, like those that involve characters treating each other fairly – avoid programs that are just about selling promotional toys, apps and gear
- are age appropriate – for example, the stories and themes of some movies are too mature and complex for young children to fully understand.
Healthy screen time habits
Developing healthy screen time habits is an important part of making the most of screen time. And if your child develops healthy screen time habits while she’s young, these habits will help her make better choices about how to use her free time when she’s older.
Here’s how you can get started on these habits with your young child.
Role-modelling healthy screen time habits
Your child learns screen time habits from you. This means you can model healthy screen habits by using screen time in the way you want your child to use it – for example, by switching your phone off during dinner, or turning the TV off when you’ve finished watching a program.
You can also set a good example by not always using technology to keep your child entertained in situations like long car journeys or while waiting at the hairdressers. Try mixing it up with things like playing ‘I spy’ or drawing. When you know you’re going to be in these situations, you could try packing an activity bag with puzzles, books, drawing materials and so on.
Playing on a device in boring situations will usually distract your child, but it can mean your child misses an opportunity to learn social skills like how to act in public, or how to manage boredom in creative ways. It can also mean your child ends up relying too much on technology for something to do.
Balancing screen time with other activities
Screen time can be a fun, learning experience for your child. But it’s important to balance screen time with other activities that are good for your child’s development, like lots of face-to-face creative play or physically active time with you and other carers.
You can find this balance for your child by:
- setting screen time limits according to the age of your child and your family’s daily or weekly routine. For example, you might give your child more screen time on the weekend, or extra time to video-chat with a relative who lives overseas
- switching off the TV, computer and mobile phones at family mealtimes. This helps even very young children to learn about socialising, communicating and using table manners
- encouraging your child to play outside, draw and play creative games like puzzles.
Managing screen time
A good way to manage screen time is to have a way of marking when it’s time to finish – for example, when it’s dinner time or bath time, or the end of the program. If you give your child a warning when it’s almost time to stop, he’ll be more likely to cooperate. It’ll also help if you make time to help your child save what he’s doing.