Dr. Mona's Mom Blog

Am I damaging my child with screen time?

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I am both a Pediatrician and a mom, so I know the developmental impact of screens, but I also understand the convenience. Keep these tips in mind when deciding how to handle screen time for your child.

Here are our screen time goals for our family (yours may look different):

  • Minimal or no screen use for me and my husband from 5:30-7:30pm. Since Ryaan attends school, we like to prioritize this parent:kiddo time before dinner and bedtime routine
  • No screens for Ryaan during play. Even 10-15 minutes of un-interrupted play with your child can be huge for their development and behavior (they love your attention, especially your undivided attention)
  • Ryaan has unlimited video chatting with loved ones
  • No screens during meal times
  • No screens in the bedroom
  • We don’t have a tablet for Ryaan. If we view screens in the home, it’s on the television to minimize close-viewing for eye-health.
  • We introduced screens at 14 months with co-viewing. This allowed for us to use joint-attention to develop language. We increased amount of time of watching television as his language and cognitive development was monitored, so we could create a healthy balance.
  • In the over 2+ years, we do 30 minutes max of screen time on school days. During school breaks and on weekends we allow for more. We usually do 20-30min increments and rotate with other activities. Sometimes, we do watch movies. We prioritize other activities such as outdoor play, independent play, play with us, and outings.
  • We occasionally do use screens at restaurants (a cell-phone) but it’s after he has finished his meal while my husband and I finish ours.
  • Screens never interfere with bedtime. Bedtime is part of his routine and sleep is a non-negotiable priority.

What does the AAP say?

The AAP has recommendations are based on various research that has been done on screen time. They recommend the following in terms of screen time:

  • Children 18 months or younger: No screens are best with the exception of video chat with family and friends.
  • 18 months to 2 years: Limit screen time and avoid solo use. Choose high-quality programming that is educational and watch with your child to ensure understanding.
  • 2-5 years: Limit screen time to an hour a day and co-watch if possible.
  • 6 or older: Place consistent limits on screen time as decided on by the family, but assure it doesn’t impact their sleep, exercise, or behavior.

The concern with overusing screen time

Screens can impact memory, language, and literacy skills. Various studies have shown that children who exceeded screen time recommendations set forth by the AAP performed worse on cognitive tests. But what the research doesn’t tell us, is what is the QUALITY of the time spent with the child when they are NOT using screens. 

I think we overlook the impact of quality time with our child when they are not in front of a screen and as a doctor mom I want to share how I balance development and convenience of screens. 

When I approach screen-time guidance, I take into account the age of the child and the parent’s social circumstances. Is the child under one? Do the parents have any social support such as daycare, family members, or a hired person to help? These are important things to consider.

The visual concerns with screen time and how to balance

Before I dive into how we navigate screen use, I do want to share this podcast episode where we discuss the relationship between screen time and visual conditions in children.

More on how we navigate screen use

As a mom, I have used screens with our son that don’t meet these AAP rules. We did not use any screens before 14 months besides for video chatting with friends. Once he started using more words after 14 months, we felt more comfortable balancing some screen time. As he became more expressive with language, I felt secure introducing screens in a healthy way to balance our lifestyle. 

We began to allow sing-a-long cartoons and practiced co-viewing. This meant, we would sit with him and sing-a-long with him. This is the recommendation after 18 months. This allowed us to have a “mental break” from playing and watch a show together. This allowed some bonding as well as we connected over a TV show. 

As he got older, we allowed more independent watching. Sometimes, we allow more than the hours recommended. We balance this with quality interactions when he is not watching the screen. When he’s sick, we have allowed more screen time. We bend the rules when we need to and understand when it’s done, it’s done. Set boundaries and stick to it. 

To me, this is the best as it allows some time for us if we are busy, some time for him to do something he actually enjoys (sing-a-long cartoons), but balance development.

Our goal here is to think about what are our needs are as parents? Do we need a break for 30 minutes? That’s okay. But do balance it with some common-sense screen time rules. 

My general advice and tips when making screen time rules is the following:

  • Avoid screens before one unless for video-chatting. Instead, foster independent play as early as four months to allow you some time to do chores around the house with them nearby in a play-pen. 
  • Between 1-2 years of age, use screens and co-watch with them. By doing this, you can point out things that interest them and make this a developmental activity (using the screen as a tool). Co-watching is even more important the younger and less verbal they are to build language skills. As your child gets older, you may see that you will allow more independent screen-time.
  • Avoid using screens with meals: Mealtime is for eating. Screens distract children from the act of eating. Think of screen time as play. You don’t tend to have screens during play-time, so try to eliminate it during meals. I do see screen use beneficial for neurodiverse children, so use your parental judgement on using these.
  • Avoid screens in bedrooms. Bedrooms are for sleep and relaxation for kids. 
  • Try to avoid the introduction of an iPad until 3 or 4. Personal devices are more concerning since they are more likely to be used on the go and thus increasing use. They are also very convenient for toddlers to grab. They also have a larger impact on eye health, so we want to minimize the use of these and stick to large televisions. Try to avoid introducing it as long as you can. The earlier you introduce it, the more frustrated they will be when you take it away. 
  • Aim for quality time with your kid if you use screen time as a break for you. I would rather have a parent put on screen time for 20 minutes so they can decompress and then positively interact with their kid than an a parent who is stressed, frustrated, and needs a break. 
  • For children older than 2 who have a hard time transitioning after screen-use, consider the types of shows you are watching. Shows that are more colorful, loud, and high-paced images can be harder for some kids to transition out of (you know your kids best). Institute a visual timer. Allow the child to set the timer and remind them that when the timer goes off screen time is done and you are moving on to another play activity or adventure.

I loved recording this podcast episode where we discuss how screen-time can impact development and why evolutionary we are not meant to overuse screens – take a listen!

The takeaway

Our goal here is to understand child development and create rules that work for your family. This may sometimes mean breaking the rules a bit, but this is for your to decide what is best. Remember to always keep your child’s development in mind and balance the use with impactful family activities. Screens are here to stay and it’s important we know how to effectively use them. 

Watch my YouTube video on screen time!

P.S. – Is Cocomelon harmful? Here are my thoughts.

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All information presented on this blog, my Instagram, and my podcast is for educational purposes and should not be taken as personal medical advice. These platforms are to educate and should not replace the medical judgment of a licensed healthcare provider who is evaluating a patient.

It is the responsibility of the guardian to seek appropriate medical attention when they are concerned about their child.

All opinions are my own and do not reflect the opinions of my employer or hospitals I may be affiliated with.