How Much Screen Time Is Right for Kids?

Find balance for your family with the latest tips and tools from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

How much “screen time” should kids spend on average watching television or using a smartphone or tablet?

To help parents strike the right balance, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has issued new guidelines and created an online tool to help families create customized media use plans. Previously, the pediatrics group recommended a limit of no more than two hours in front of the TV for children older than age 2, but in today’s world defining screen time is more challenging.

In its new recommendations, the AAP broadened the definition as time spent using digital media for entertainment purposes. Online homework doesn’t count as screen time under this definition.

“It used to be under age 2, no screen time. Over age 2, two hours is the maximum,” says pediatrician Dr. James DuRant of Novant Health Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics in Charlotte.

Under the new guidelines, kids ages 2 to 5 years should spend at most one hour per day on media. For children ages 6 and older, parents should determine the limits on time spent on media and the types of digital media used. Parents need to monitor that media doesn’t replace physical activity, sleep and other behavior related to good health.

"It's a balance between screen time and physical activity," DuRant says. "We just want our kids to be active, healthy, and not just engrossed at sitting down at a media tablet all day."

Parents must become more engaged about kids’ media use.  “Part of the reason the academy came out with the new recommendations is to recognize that screen time is not necessarily bad,” DuRant says. “There are good applications that help develop language and social skills.”

For children younger than 18 months, the academy said to avoid use of screen media other than video-chatting. Parents of toddlers 18 to 24 months of age who want to introduce them to digital media should choose high-quality programming. For children of all ages, the academy recommends that parents watch programs with their kids to help them understand what they're viewing.

Programming offered by the Sesame Workshop can offer educational value to young children, the academy says. It suggested parents evaluate programming using guidance provided by nonprofit groups such as Common Sense Media.

The academy stresses it’s also important to designate media-free time such as when having family dinners. Also, create media-free zones such as no screen time while in bed. 

“Use media when you need to but at the same time, be involved with a child, connect with a child and don't just rely on screens," DuRant says.