How Much is Too Much Screen Time for Kids?

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Kid Screen Time - How Much Is Too Much_2

Okay mamas, I’m ready to talk about something a little touchy in the parenting world.  Something that affects all of us…and all of our kids.  Screen time for our children.

We are in the generation of everything electronic – TVs, cell phones, iPads, handheld gaming devices, laptops, tablets, thousands of apps and games, and everything in between.    All at out fingertips.  Which means at our children’s fingertips.  So here’s my question today: how much is too much screen time for kids?

Let’s open up a dialogue, because I am genuinely curious to hear what other mamas have to say on this subject.  I’ll start.  Here’s my two cents…please feel free to agree, disagree or comment below.

Our experience with our first child…

First, let me begin by saying that I have a four-year-old and six-year-old.  So that’s where my experience lies and my opinions formed.

For our family, the introduction (and controversy) of electronics came early in my kids’ lives.  On one hand, I was bombarded by educational and medical studies, blogs and conversations with other parents about how bad screen time was for kids.  I read them, I internalized them and I talked about them with my hubby.  I had a very clear picture of what I wanted for my kids.  Minimal, if any, screen time.

On the other hand…life happened.

Slowly but surely, we started letting our first child watch TV.  Hey, what’s one Mickey Mouse Clubhouse or Little Einsteins??  We were pretty strict about having the TV off, except for these 20 minute shows that were kid friendly.

Our experience with our second child…

Then, our second kiddo came along.  And we let him watch TV a lot sooner than my daughter.  Kind of more by default.

And guess what?  Our lives got more complicated.  I was running out of creative ideas to entertain my then active, curious, loud two-and-a-half-year old while I nursed the baby.  Here kid, watch a Yo Gabba Gabba.

I found myself becoming more lax in the screen time department.  My threshold bumped up to a couple of 20 minute shows per day.

Onto the school years… 

Fast forward to present day.  I have a four-year-old and a six-year-old who now know the pass codes to my phone and iPad, know how to work the DVR, and know how to work the Playstation 3 for DVDs.  Oh, and both kids know how to login and navigate Netflix. (I’m kind of cringing even as I write this.)

My first grader is hungry for learning games and apps – beginner Spanish, language arts, learning about the States, and anything to do with reading and art…she could literally spend hours if I let her.

My son is honing in on his fine motor skills (which makes the iPad easier), and loves playing Starfall.com on the iPad – phonics, numbers and beginner reading.  And yes, I’ve seen a noticeable (good!) difference now that he’s been playing those games.

Some resources I found…

I started researching more about kids and screen time, and have included some of the websites and articles I found helpful:

American Academy of Pediatrics
Excerpt:  “Television and other entertainment media should be avoided for infants and children under age 2. A child’s brain develops rapidly during these first years, and young children learn best by interacting with people, not screens.”

Kids’ Screen Time May Affect Their Well-Being
This is a really interesting read, re-published by The Huffington Post (By: Rachael Rettner, Senior Writer;
Published: 03/17/2014 on LiveScience)

Kids Still Getting Too Much Screen Time, Experts Say (CBS News)
(By: Amy Norton, HEALTHDAY) – CBS News just shared a story on this very topic on July 9th.

Research Says Screen Time Can Be Good For Your Kids
Finally, I landed on an article that addressed some of the benefits of screen time.  (By: Jordan Shapiro, Contributor, FORBES)

Our dilemma…

My husband and I have been talking about how much is TOO much screen time.  Beyond the studies, beyond what the pediatrician recommends, beyond what other kids are doing.  Because at then end of the day, we’re just parents.  What are we comfortable with?

I asked my hubby this question last night – ideally, how much time are you comfortable with the kids in front of the screen…any screen.  His initial answer?  One hour per week, per kid.  I immediately started laughing.  He did too.

Sorry hubs, this is not very realistic.

I’d like to think we’re somewhere in the middle of the spectrum.  No, our kids are not in front of a screen all.the.time.  They are at school, they are at camps, playdates, activities, running, reading, playing, crafting, swimming…you name it.

But yes, our kids are allowed to watch TV, use the iPad for learning games, and watch kid movies on Netflix.

Some parents I talk to are ALL for the iPads, games/apps, TV, movies, laptops, etc. – the kids are learning by leaps and bounds, working on their fine motor skills, and it’s “the way of the world now.”

Some parents I talk to are really against putting their kiddos in front of electronics as a “babysitter.”  Their argument is that they should be engaged with the people around them, running, playing, creating, and learning hands-on.

I’m torn.  I see both sides.  And, I play both sides.  I’m more lax with the screen time, my husband tends to be more strict with their screen time usage.

Share your thoughts…

So here’s my question to you.  What are your boundaries?  What are your house rules?  How much is TOO much, in your opinion?  Please share below…and let’s talk about it in a fun, easygoing way…because at the end of the day, we all want what’s best for our kids!

8 Comments

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8
  1. 1
    Suzanne says:

    I will chime in here because, I think you are doing great, Christy!! We introduced the iPad at 18 months to or oldest son, who is now almost 5. He learned to spell and read and of course it started out educational. Now it’s all Minecraft (which I do believe is SOMEWHAT educational) and Minion Rush. We also let him play the Playstaion Lego games (partly because daddy likes to play with him!). So, I would say we are very lenient with the screen time. But, we have a very social little guy who also likes to play with real Legos and swim and do all things active. Sometimes with boys, I’m noticing he doesn’t actually “rest” unless he’s really focused on something. He NEEDS downtime and for or family it works. I hope to think we are teaching him healthy boundaries between screen play and real play. Just like we, as adults are doing in this era, right?! It’s new territory for us too to try not to pick up our devices all the time, right?!!!!

  2. 2
    Michele says:

    Love how you wrote about this topic and the tone you set. Believe it or not, I actually like your husband’s answer! My kids are 12 and 8. No TV except for Friday family movie night where we all watch together. I see more educational benefits from heavy library book reading, using their imagination when they become bored, playing with real life art materials in a 3-D world, putting on “shows” for me while I make dinner, singing or playing an instrument, time for quiet imaginative play. So I make that a priority over the screen and then we don’t end up having time for the screens. My 12 year old does use a screen for guitar lessons, typing lessons, and citizen science projects. But he’s 12 now – and that’s maybe 3x a week for an hour each time. Well, that’s what works for us! I hope you find what works for you!

  3. 3
    Jen says:

    I love this post and all of the thought you have put into it. As parents today we are definitely dealing with something no other generation before us has, so in a way we are all learning as we go.

    In our family, I don’t put “rules” or “limits” on screen time. Both my girls are really active, social, and involved in a ton of activities. They also play a lot together imaginatively, so if they are at home and want to chill out and watch a show or if my oldest want to rest and play a game on the iPad, I let them.

    I also believe a lot of TV shows for young kids these days are more “educational” than the old cartoons we grew up with! Princess Sofia has started some good conversations in our house about social situations, and shows like Sesame Street, Dora, Team Umizoomi, etc. all do a good amount of teaching. Of COURSE, that is not a replacement for reading, talking, playing, etc. etc. but there is more value than there used to be for sure.

    I think if kids are well-rounded and balanced as far as the amount that they do imaginative or toy play at home, and are involved in physical activities outside the home, I don’t think there is need to stress about it. We don’t want a child who is at home watching TV or on an iPad ALL day long, but if it is fun for them for short periods of time, I say don’t stress!

    We have SO much to stress about these days! Thoughts?

  4. 4
    christy says:

    Suzanne – thanks so much for contributing! I absolutely agree with you – sometimes letting them play on the iPad or just chill out and watch a show helps them relax and have that much needed downtime…especially for my little guy. My daughter has a much easier time with resting – she’ll read to herself, color, do Rainbow Loom, etc. My little man is still running around, bouncing off the wall at times…and resists “resting.” Having him cuddle up on the couch and chill while watching a Jake and the Neverland Pirates helps him relax…and also agreed…my kids are still active all.the.time!!! Hoping I am teaching them about setting healthy screen time boundaries, too. Thanks for sharing your experience!!!

  5. 5
    christy says:

    Michele, thank you so much for sharing, and for your kind words! WOW – so many wonderful ideas!! I’m taking notes 🙂 I especially love the idea of putting on shows for you – my kids would eat that up. I really appreciate your perspective…and my hubby does too!! Thanks so much!

  6. 6
    christy says:

    Jen – thanks so much for this perspective. Yes, this is definitely a “learn as we go” parenting challenge. I also agree that TV shows today are much more educational than when we were little (For example, my husband just introduced them to Tom and Jerry…see what mommy and daddy watched when we were little? Holy COW, I forgot about those types of cartoons – I’m too used to Disney Junior shows that re-enforce educational concepts and social etiquette and healthy habits!!! No more Tom and Jerry, honey, thanks very much – lol.)

    My kiddos are also involved in lots of activities – educational, physical and social. So I think that’s why I tend to be more chill in the screen time department. If they want to zone out for a little while and watch Princess Sofia or Doc McStuffins, go for it.

    I think it’s all about finding the right balance and boundaries for what works for each individual family. I know that at my daughter’s school, she does all of her reading comprehension tests on the iPad and is learning basic computer functions and etiquette. I told my hubby that if we did one hour of screen time, per kid, per week, she’d use it all up at school!

    On the other hand, I do see how easy it is to just turn on the TV and let them zone…and zone…and zone. When they’re tired, mama is tired, and it’s been one of those “days.” And, I know that’s not very healthy either.

    I know my hubby and I are trying to find that right balance for what works for us. All of the comments, ideas and support just from this blog posit have been SO helpful!! Thank you again for sharing your ideas and experience!!

  7. 7
    Jessica says:

    I really appreciate the tone of this article because I do believe it is very balanced and so many blogs out there tend to take a one sided approach and leaves me feeling guilty or lazy.
    I agree with Jen 100%! In fact, I think I have literally said some of those exact sentences when discussing this with other moms. This is a new generation of parenting, entertainment and technology. We have the advantage AND disadvantage of being some what guinea pigs when it comes to modern day parental concerns like “screen time” . I read the so called scientic articles and research this topic heavily because it is so polarizing. I can’t say that a ever give much credence to them. I truly think that the results, behaviors, etc that “researchers” claim are a result of too much screen time are in fact a result of a much more global issue. Balance is absolutely key. Every show my daughters watch has educational elements too it and they have helped me to reinforce the lessons to my kids. I don’t believe in setting hard limits, restrictions, or guidelines based on what I think a parent “should” be doing. I find that when you set these limits on yourself or your children, it almost always backfires. I think you really need to know your children and what is best for your family before determining things like how many hours of tv, iPad they should have. Restrictions regarding the type of program or game etc is a different conversation but again so depends on your child. My children are 4 and 1 so we haven’t got to the point where screen time may be disruptive to our family but we will deal with that when time comes. I just know that I will apply my same philosophy of balance without hard limits and not beat myself up about what others say is best for my children.

  8. 8
    christy says:

    Jessica – excellent perspective, thank you!! YES, I absolutely agree that balance is key. I think you also made some great points – about knowing your children best AND it can very easily backfire when you set hard limits on what you think you “should” be doing as a parent. It’s all about balancing, setting a healthy example, and deciding what’s best for your family. I really appreciate you taking the time to comment, thank you!

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