Media guidelines for your about-to-be-three-year-old

Nothing seems to stir up controversy more than the age-old debate about kids and screen time. Ask any parent to describe their rules regarding television, computer, tablet, and phone use and you may get an answer ranging from “never” to “as much as they want.”

Occasionally using screen time for entertainment, or to keep your toddler occupied is something many parents freely admit to. And while family movie night or playing a game for a few minutes a day is considered acceptable and relatively harmless, making screen time the “go to” when you need a break or your toddler is restless can have long-lasting consequences parents need to be aware of.

In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says overuse of digital media may place your child at a higher risk for obesity, not getting enough sleep, delays in learning and social skills, and behavior problems. And this list of concerns includes both active and passive exposure to screens.

Guidelines on time

For several years, parents and caregivers have been following the “no more than two hours per day” guideline when it comes to screen time, and now the AAP has said that is one hour too many. The new guidelines, released in October 2016, recommend children ages two to five years limit screen use to one hour per day of high-quality programs. It’s important to note the AAP identifies screen time as time spent using digital media for entertainment purposes. This does not include using media for online homework or other school/educational purposes, or phone or video calls with family and friends.

Family media plan

In addition to new screen time recommendations, the AAP has also clearly defined a set of guidelines for families to follow when allowing their kids to have screen time. These include taking into account the health, education, and entertainment needs of each child, as well as the whole family. Topping the list of suggestions is the recommendation to co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them. They also recommend parents prioritize creative, unplugged playtime for toddlers.

Parents should also consider their own media use and the impact it has on their toddler. When caregivers are distracted by screen time, it creates fewer opportunities to interact with their children, which has a real impact on kids’ development. It’s also important to take into account the type of adult media a toddler is being exposed to. It’s a pretty safe bet that most parents are not watching Sesame Street or playing a reading game when they’re using technology.

Another question that comes up frequently when creating a family media plan is the use of passive vs. active screen time. Passive screen time involves sedentary screen-based activities and/or passively receiving screen-based information (for example, watching television, movies, or videos on screens) and is considered to be less favorable than active screen time, which involves cognitively or physically engaging in screen-based activities.

Ultimately, balance is the key to finding the right amount of screen time for your family. As long as kids are getting plenty of play time, exposure to the outdoors, time with books, and interaction with loving caregivers, developing a media plan that includes some quality time with screens should be relatively easy.

Tips for limiting screen time

  • Resist the urge to buy your child their own tablet. Only have family electronics and keep and use them in a shared space (no screens in bedrooms).
  • Put away all devices at mealtime, bedtime, and family time.
  • Turn off TVs and other devices when not in use.
  • Avoid exposure to screens one hour before bedtime.
  • Consider a “no screens in the car” rule. Instead, introduce kids to games like “car bingo” and “I spy.”
  • Avoid using media as the only way to soothe your toddler or keep them occupied when bored or restless. Using this as a strategy can lead to problems with a child’s own ability to set limits and manage emotions.

About the author:
Sara Lindberg is a freelance writer focusing on parenting, health, and wellness. She is passionate about all things fitness and health and loves spending time with her husband, daughter, and son. 

  • “American Academy of Pediatrics Announces New Recommendations For Children’s Media Use.” American Academy of Pediatrics. American Academy of Pediatrics, October 21 2016. Retrieved July 24 2017.
  • “How much screen time is OK for my kid(s)?”Common Sense Media. Common Sense. Retrieved July 24 2017.

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