Parent Corner: Screen Time

by KAREN COREKIN-DeLaMER, Education and Community Relations Coordinator, Northern Door Children’s Center

Dear Karen,

My son is 3 years old. He alternates weeks between me and his dad. We comfortably co-parent, and he spends time every week with my mom, too. All of us agree on most things when it comes to raising our boy. The only thing we seem to disagree about is how much screen time is OK for a child his age. He loves playing games on our phones and watching videos on the tablet my mom gave him.

My mom and my son’s dad are pretty casual about how much screen time he gets. As long as he’s happy, neither of them is too worried about how much time he spends with a screen. They make sure he is playing educational games or watching nature videos. 

But I worry that he spends too much time in front of a screen and think he should be outside or playing with his toys inside. I try to limit him to an hour a day. They say I’m overreacting, and as long as it’s good content, then the amount of time doesn’t matter. What do you think?

— Worried about Too Much Screen Time

Dear Worried,

This is such an important topic, and I appreciate you asking about it. I think everyone probably has an opinion about screen time for children and how much is enough or too much, so I decided to see what current science and research can tell us. 

I’ve always found the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) to be a trustworthy source of information about the health of children, and I also checked with the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the World Health Organization and the American Psychological Association. Medical professionals, psychologists and child-development experts are undertaking long-term studies to look at the potential value of screens for education, as well as the possible drawbacks of screens for children’s health and well-being. 

Because screen technology is rapidly changing, new research is emerging all the time. It’s clear from up-to-date research that very young children aren’t able to earn well from screens. The AAP recommends that children younger than 18 months have little to no screen time. They suggest that children that young be limited to video chatting with family members while being closely supervised by a parent or other adult. Children younger than 18 months have difficulty understanding what they see on the screen, so there isn’t much value in using it as an educational tool. 

Children between the ages of 18 and 24 months also should have very little screen time; it should be educational programs; and it should be watched with an adult family member or caregiver present.

Children between the ages of 2 and 5 should have an hour or less of screen time on weekdays and a total of no more than three hours on weekends. 

For children 6 and older, the AAP recommends developing a family media plan in which parents and caregivers evaluate a variety of factors, including the health, educational and entertainment needs of each member of the family.

Karen Corekin-DeLaMer holds degrees in elementary, special and early-childhood education. She has been a teacher, administrator and parent educator since 1984 and is the education and community-relations coordinator for Northern Door Children’s Center in Sister Bay. Email your questions to her at [email protected].