How a pediatrician does screen time

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently came out with new guidelines for parents on how to manage their kids’ use of phones, tvs, video games, iPads, and other screen interfaces.  There is even a handy form that parents can fill out to create a media plan specific to their kids’ ages, activities, and needs.


This is my take, just to offer an example.  My kids are preschool age and toddler age.  My preschooler has always been very drawn to the screens and if I let her, she would sit on the couch all day and watch TV or play games on the iPad. I limit her time on the screen to as little as possible, usually none on week days when the only hours we have left together in the day after daycare is dinner, play time, bath time, and bedtime. I prefer spending those hours letting her use her imagination, help to clean up, read together, and play with her sister. On the weekends, I’ll let her watch 30-45 min of TV in the afternoon. The reasoning there is that if I let her watch in the morning, she will whine all day (yes, she would whine ALL DAY) to watch more. For example, this Saturday after we spent the day at church, she wanted to watch TV. I suggested go on a walk to look for leaves first and she great time running through the yard picking up leaves and sticks, and even picking off a few fresh leaves (didn’t realize she was that tall!) to add green to her pile of reds and yellows.  By the time we were done, she only had about 20 min left before dinner time to watch TV.

As for educational apps, there is not much research on how useful they are, but the most important point is that they should not be used as babysitters, but are most effective when used together with an adult.  Now, if I have to sit with her to use the app, then I might as well sit with her to go through a coloring or letter tracing workbook or to build with blocks or make a picnic.  I look at enough screens for work, so I prefer not to look at more if other options are available. Studies also show that traditional toys are better than fancy tech toys, so probably similar principles apply to the apps.  If we were stuck on a plane and ran out of steam playing I spy and other activities, then I do have apps ready to go on my phone, but we haven’t been in one of those situations recently, even on a recently flight across the country.

As for the toddler, the doesn’t take much of an interest in the screens, except for swiping through photos on the accidental occasion she gets her hands on one.  I don’t have to keep her away from screens.

With both kids, we take advantage of Skype and FaceTime to keep in touch with older relatives.  I think this is fine and important to helping the kids develop respect for their elders and keeping a dynamic relationship with family they don’t often see.

I don’t have my own teen kids yet (though sometimes it feels like it with the eye-rolling, authority questioning preschooler), these are my general guidelines for my teen patients and their parents.

  1. Homework, chores, and exercise first before any recreational screen time.
  2. Be safe (keep settings private, don’t talk to strangers, don’t send photos you don’t want grandma to see)
  3. Be kind (Don’t forward gossip, don’t text or post mean things)
  4. Screens off an hour before bed time and through the time, helps with a better night sleep
  5. Think of it like driving. Monitor them closely, yes as in checking their texts, following them on social media, until you think they are ready to follow your rules without you checking on them from the passenger seat.
  6. Parents should try to model these behaviors too.. which brings me to…

ME, the Millennial Mom… My daughter tells ME to put my phone down a lot. She learns from my husband who nags me. I don’t have a Facebook app on my phone because I know I would waste too much time looking at the timeline. Since I have Twitter on it, my non-urgent screen use has taken off, but I have gotten better and generally try to  put the phone across the room from me so that I stay focused on my kids when I am home.

Even in this tech filled time we live in, the golden rule is that it is usually still better to dig in the dirt, than to swipe a screen.


One comment

  1. […] Pack entertainment. I had brought some compact board games, paper, and crayons in case we went to a restaurant and they got bored. (We ended up not going because the 2 year old zonked out in the car as I was looking up a smorgasbord diner.) Don’t forget we can use ourselves as entertainment with games like I spy, simon says, and silly songs! I try to avoid relying on screen time as much as possible, see this post for my recommendations and real life examples on that topic. […]

Comments are closed.