Mother and baby looking together at a tablet

By Madeline Johnson

If you’re like many parents, your home and your world are filled with screens. These days we rely on digital media to provide everything from information and shopping to education and entertainment. And it’s natural to want to include our children and share the technology we enjoy. But is that wise for our kids?

According to pediatricians and children’s health experts, time spent on screen media is not the best choice for babies and young children, whose bodies and brains are in a critical stage of development. To learn and grow properly, children under 2 need hands-on exploration of the physical world and social interaction with parents and caregivers.

AAP Guidelines for Children’s Screen Use

The latest guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend the following:

Age of baby AAP Screen Use Recommendation
Less than 18 months Little or no screen time at all (with the exception of video chatting with family, along with parents)
18 months – 2 years If parents wish to introduce digital media, choose high quality programming, such as the content offered by Sesame Workshop and PBS, that is watched along with parents
2 years and older Limit daily screen time to one hour or less of high quality programming, that is watched along with parents

Here’s a rundown of what lies behind these guidelines, and why avoiding or limiting screen time is recommended for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers.

  1. Speech delay (with handheld screen time). A recent study that focused on children who were 6 months to 2 years old demonstrated that the more time children used a handheld device each day, the greater the likelihood that they would be delayed in learning to talk.

  2. Other developmental delays. Research has shown that too much TV time, for instance, can lead to delays in children’s attention, thinking, communication, and social-emotional skills.

  3. Sleep disruption. Screen time – especially when it occurs within one hour of bedtime - can lead to overstimulation and prevent babies and young children from falling asleep and getting enough sleep.

  4. Obesity. Children who overuse media during the preschool years are at risk of weight gain and obesity. Watching TV or other media viewing can displace physical activity and active play, while exposure to food advertising and snacking while watching TV may also be contributing factors.

Screen Time Substitutes

Next time you are tempted to hand over your phone or tablet to entertain your baby (and what parent hasn’t done this!), consider these alternatives:

  1. Play a non-electronic game. Try nursery rhymes and finger play games such as peekaboo, pat-a-cake, and Itsy-Bitsy Spider (see this article for more suggestions).

  2. Read a book together.

  3. Have some tummy time fun (with your very young baby).

Honestly, any activity that involves you and your baby playing and interacting with each other, from talking and singing to clapping and waving bye-bye is a great alternative to the screen.

AAP Family Media Use Plan

As children become older and more independent, helping them balance their online and off-line time becomes even more challenging. To help parents foster healthy media use habits, the AAP has created an interactive tool that can be personalized to suit the needs of each family. The interactive tool includes a Media Time Calculator that helps parents see how much time their child is spending each day on their activities, such as eating, sleeping, homework, media use, and any physical activities. Creating and following this plan can even help parents keep better track of their own media use.

Of course, there are times when screen time may be simply unavoidable, and as parents, we know how much technology plays a role in our lives. Keeping this guidance in mind and using these tips will hopefully help our little ones’ flourish while also allowing us more quality time with them.

Related Articles