Health Notes

What Every Kid – and Every Parent – Needs to Know about Screen Time

by Dr. Elizabeth Walenz on November 8, 2016

Media is everywhere around us – television, iPad, Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram, OnDemand – and it’s not going anywhere anytime soon. What we need to determine is how we are going to parent with it.

We are gaining connectivity, but losing physical connectedness to each other. That’s the reason behind new recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) on media use in younger children and also older children and adolescents.

There have been many studies on media and its effects on the developing brain. A human infant brain has 300 billion neurons, and it triples in size in the first two years of life. What kind of effect does media use have on the developing brain?

When media is not used appropriately, we can see less face to face time, less exercise and outdoor-free play. We can see difficulties with sleep and less family time overall. Studies show the more television a child watches before the age of three, the increased likelihood of attention problems – not necessarily ADHD, but difficulty sustaining attention.

Here are the new recommendations for media use in kids:

  • Media use before age two is discouraged.
  • Infants need laps more than apps.
  • Video chatting (Skype, Facetime) is ok.
  • For 18- to 24-month olds, high quality interactive, slow paced media with the child is ok. (Not Sponge Bob… Think more the speed of Caillou or PBS programming.)
  • Avoid using media as a calming strategy. Talk to your child rather than trying to engage him in the iPad if he is upset.
  • For children age two and up, limit media use to one hour per day.
  • Have ongoing communication about online citizenship and safety, including treating others with respect online and offline.
  • No screen time during meals.
  • No screen time one hour before bed. Electronic media disrupts sleep. The light exposure can shift the circadian rhythm and make us fall asleep later and wake up later.

The AAP has developed a Family Media use tool where parents can calculate how much media each child in the family should use each day. The family media plan helps to take into account the health, education and entertainment needs of each child as well as the whole family.

Click here for the AAP Family Media Use Tool.

Dr. Elizabeth Walenz
Elizabeth Walenz, MD

These rules about screen time aren’t just for kids. Parents also need to unplug, as we have become a generation of distracted parents – receiving updates or checking our email. Even in us, media can cause overstimulation (from multi-tasking) and decreased joint attention (not paying attention to what your child is drawing your attention to).

Parents are a child’s most important teachers. If the television is on or a phone is in the parent’s hand, the parent stops talking. The child hears fewer words.

What can we parents do to engage our children and be ideal media mentors?

  • Under age two, encourage free play. Creative play, reasoning and problem solving are more valuable to the developing brain than passive media use.
  • When watching a show with your 18 month old or toddler, engage the child and ask them questions about what you are watching.
  • Look for media choices that are age appropriate for your child in terms of sex, drugs or violence.
  • Look for quality programming that may emulate how you would like your child to act. Utilize to preview a show, movie or video game to see if it is appropriate for your child.
  • Keep your family computer in a public place, such as the kitchen, so you can see what your child is viewing on the World Wide Web.
  • Discuss digital footprint with your child or teen and that every site they visit on the internet is remembered. They should not take actions online they would not want to be on record for a long time.
  • Discuss cyberbullying. Make sure kids know if they are bullied online or on social media sites, they need to let a parent know. As a parent, if your child is being cyberbullied, be sure to discuss the situation with their school’s administration, as any type of bullying should not be tolerated.
  • Parents should be aware of social media sites their children and adolescents are on. Parents should have an account so they can monitor activity.
  • Parents should talk to children about not sharing personal information or photos online with people they do not know in real life.
  • Have your child sign an online media pledge which discusses internet and online safety.

If you have questions about how media affects your child or teen, talk with your Methodist Physicians Clinic pediatrician. 

Visit these Methodist blogs for more information about screen time:


Dr. Elizabeth Walenz is a pediatrician now seeing patients at
Methodist Physicians Clinic Regency.
Contact Dr. Walenz at
Dr. Elizabeth Walenz


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