Monitoring your toddler’s screentime

It’s hard to find a family that isn’t more digitally connected than its oldest member could ever have imagined when they were toddlers, but technology is a fact of life, and the youngest members of the family often learn to use touchscreens with the kind of ease that only comes from being born into a world where they’re everywhere.

It’s a slippery technological slope . . .

While you may never have planned for Baby to get interested in digital technology so young, these days it can seem to start when you’re not looking. One day, Baby is figuring out the passcode to your phone by having watched you unlock it, and the next, they're watching in-car entertainment systems during long – and even not-so-long – car trips. You go out to lunch and let Baby look at your phone while you wait for your meals to arrive. And while you prep dinner, maybe they love to play with that new game you downloaded.

But like with every other aspect of their life, Baby isn’t going to learn to set limits for themself until you teach them.

How young is too young?

Your child’s age can be a great guide to screen time do’s and don’ts. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, digital technology should not play much of a role in the lives of children younger than two, unless it’s an interactive, family-oriented activity. As children approach their second birthday, parents can begin to share digital educational content, but it should be something parents and children do together, as a way of interacting with each other, rather than instead of interacting.

During the two- to five-year-old window, according to the AAP, daily digital time shouldn’t exceed 60 minutes, and content should be age-appropriate and high-quality. Even though it’s tempting to give kids more choice in what they watch as they reach the upper range of this age group, digital content should still be a collaborative parent-child activity.

Trimming the tech ties

If you sense Baby is getting a little too tech-savvy for their age, try these tips to dial back digital dependency.

  • Have tech alternatives available: Instead of turning over your phone to Baby the next time you’re in a slow-moving line, make sure you have some low-tech activities handy. Travel with stickers, hand-held puzzles, or engage Baby in a fun guessing game.
  • Put parameters in place: If Baby can’t make it to the neighborhood post office without a DVD teed up or your phone in-hand, start establishing some limits. Sing songs, tell stories, or play I-Spy for everyday car trips and save the electronics for long drives or the occasional traffic jam meltdown.
  • Look at your own tech time: Do you look at your phone every chance you get? Do you watch TV curled up with your laptop open? If so, remember imitation is a prime toddler activity, and children act out what they see. If you want to limit Baby’s tech usage, first try easing up on your own.  

Over time, technology will play an increasingly important role in Baby’s life, but it doesn’t need to start now. During the toddler years, putting tech parameters in place, and making sure their world centers around real-life interactions with family, imaginary play, exercise and physical games, and off-line books and stories can help to make sure they get all the ingredients for the physical, emotional, social, and language development that happens during these years.  

  • “Healthy Digital Media Use Habits for Babies, Toddlers & Preschoolers.” Digital Media and Your Young Children: TV, Computers, Smartphones, and Other Screens. American Academy of Pediatrics. 10/6/16.
  • “Parents of Young Children: Put Down Your Smartphones.” American Academy of Pediatrics. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. 5/24/16.
  • “Kids and Tech: Tips for Parents in the Digital Age.” Media Use in School-Age Children and Adolescents. Media and Young Minds. Children and Adolescents and Digital Media. Growing Up Digital: Media Research Symposium. American Academy of Pediatrics. 10/21/16.

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