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Limiting Screen Time for Kids

Our children are exposed to more on-screen content every year, from smartphones and tablets to video games and advertisements. It’s more important than ever to teach healthy screen time habits at an early age. Most parents set time limits at the beginning, but it’s easy to divert from these rules when you’re trying to keep your little ones occupied. So let’s focus on why limiting screen time is so important, and setting ourselves up to follow the rules we put in place.

How Much Screen Time Is Okay?

While we acknowledge that screen time is an unavoidable part of life for most adults, we can make efforts to limit our children’s access to it. Here’s a helpful guide for screen time based on children’s ages:

  • Under 18 months: no direct access to screens
  • 18-24 Months: limited, supervised access to screens
  • 2-5 Years: one to two supervised hours per day

Within these hours, we recommend focusing on active rather than passive screen time activities. In other words, choose interactive content rather than content to stare at. They can use a screen to communicate with family members (e.g. video chat), play a puzzle game to learn shapes, numbers and colors, or watch high-quality, interactive educational programs. 

How Children Can Use Screen Time to Learn

Young children learn best through two-way communication. Back-and-forth conversation improves language skills, much more so than one-way interaction with a screen. Parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them. Active conversations and personal engagement give screen time meaning—active learning is best! 

The Risks of Passive Screen Time

The first two years of a child’s life are crucial for interacting with—and learning from—the world around them. Making a conscious effort to skip screen time allows for children to learn vital skills that stem from interaction with others. These are some of the most common risks of too-much screen time:

  • Bad sleeping habits: exposure to a blue screen light can impact their ability to fall asleep.
  • Behavior and attention difficulties: studies have shown that children with more than two hours of screen time per day have more behavior and attention-based issues than children with under 30 minutes of screen time (source).
  • Obesity: screen time has been linked to a greater risk of obesity. Limited sleep affects our metabolism and appetite-related hormones, and sedentary screen time takes time away from healthy, physical activities.

How to Limit Screen Time (and Make it Stick!)

We know less screen time is the right choice, but sometimes it’s easy to hand our children an iPad when they’re being fussy. We get it. But with a bit of forethought, and by getting the whole family on board, you can stick to a healthier routine. Here are a few tips for limiting screen time:

  • Set time limits: Designate media-free family time, including your own. Put your phone on “do not disturb” during playtime or other one-on-one interactions with your child to create quality time free of distractions.
  • Screen-free areas: In addition to media-free time, designate entire rooms in your home where screens aren’t allowed, such as bedrooms and the dining room.
  • Avoid background media: Turn off the television while children play or when no one is watching to avoid unnecessary exposure.
  • Take screens out of the bedroom: Screen time before bed makes it hard for children to fall asleep. Swap screens for stories and songs before bedtime.
  • Choose trusted, highquality programs: and Sesame Street have stood the test of time and shown efficacy in teaching literacy skills.
  • Use parental controls: Courtesy of the American Academy of Pediatrics, you can create a family media plan and use a media time calculator tool to be aware of how often you’re using media and how to use it to achieve a purpose with your child.
  • Plan for structured playtime: Have other, more interactive activities, on hand. 30 minutes with a puzzle, sticker book or sensory game can be just as easy as handing over a screen.


The Malvern School follows the guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics, setting the standard for today’s digital landscape with young children. We are cognizant of the amount of screens vying for a young child’s attention.  We limit daily allotted screen time for our 2+ year old classrooms, and restrict the screen activities to active teacher engagement. Our learning throughout the day focuses on hands-on lessons, being active with movement and more ways to spur creativity.

Want to learn more? Media and Young Minds | Children and Media Tips

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