Screen Time Recommendations For Your Child By Age

kid on their phone

Reggie Casagrande / Getty Images

Screen time is the term used to describe the amount of time someone spends in front of a screen. It includes the time spent using electronic devices such as:

  • Watching television
  • Using a mobile phone or tablet
  • Working on a computer or laptop
  • Playing on a gaming console

While your child may need screens to do research and complete homework assignments, they may also spend a lot of time playing games, using social media, or watching movies, shows, or videos.

American children spend approximately three hours per day watching television, and their screen time often adds up to around five to seven hours per day.

While screen time can offer some benefits, it can also lead to a lot of negative consequences, particularly if children spend several hours per day using screens.

This article lists some benefits and consequences of screen time, screen time recommendations by age, and tips to help you manage your child’s screen time.

Benefits of Screen Time

These are some of the benefits that electronic devices can offer, via social media and digital apps, programs, and content:

  • Awareness of current events and issues
  • Exposure to new information and ideas
  • Opportunities to participate in community programs and events
  • Connection and communication with friends and family members, particularly those who don’t live nearby
  • Collaboration with other students on projects and assignments
  • Access to support networks, which can be particularly helpful to people who have health conditions or disabilities, or those who may feel excluded by society
  • Awareness of healthy and sustainable behaviors

Negative Consequences of Too Much Screen Time

Via the content they view on screens, children may be exposed to:

  • Violence
  • Substance abuse
  • Sexual content
  • Negative stereotypes
  • Risky behaviors, such as stunts or challenges
  • Misleading information
  • Cyberbullies or predators
  • Advertising aimed at children, such as ads for junk foods high in sugar, salt, and fat

Additionally, too much screen time can also cause effects such as:

  • Sleep disturbances and poor sleep quality
  • Weight issues, due to less physical activity and unhealthy eating habits
  • Behavior and mood issues, including less emotional stability, lower self-control, inability to finish tasks, and being difficult to care for
  • Reading fewer books, less curiosity, and lower academic performance
  • Less time spent with friends and family
  • Fear of missing out
  • Poor self-image and issues with body image

Screen Time Recommendations by Age

The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) suggests the following screen time recommendations by age:

  • For children up to 18 months old: Limit screen time to only video calls (for instance, with a family member who is out of town) with an adult present. At this age, children learn better from hands-on, real-world experience and interaction with caregivers than through screens.
  • For children between 18 and 24 months old: Limit screen time to watching content with a caregiver present. At this age, children learn better if an adult reteaches them the content displayed on the screen.
  • For children between two and five years old: Limit non-educational screen time to one hour per weekday and three hours per day on weekends. Select, well-designed programs can help improve social, cognitive, and literacy outcomes in preschool-aged children and teach children healthy habits.
  • For children six years old and above: Limit non-educational screen time and encourage them to participate in other healthy activities.

Tips to Manage Screen Time

It’s important for children to exercise, get enough sleep, spend time with friends and family, and participate in non-screen hobbies, sports, and activities; limiting screen time can help enable this.

While setting limits on screen time, it’s important to consider that all the time your child spends using a screen is not the same. For instance, your child may need to spend some time on the computer every day to do their homework. Therefore, you may choose to only limit the time they spend on other screen-related activities such as watching television or playing online games.

These are some tips that can help you limit or manage your child’s screen time:

  • Keep screens in common areas: Instead of putting the television or computer in your child’s bedroom, install it in a common area such as the living room instead, so you can keep an eye on your child’s screen time and activity.
  • Avoid screens during meals and family time: Don’t keep the television on during meals and make it a rule that no one is allowed to be on their phones or devices during family activities and outings. 
  • Pick appropriate programs: Sit with your child and decide which programs they will watch in advance. Ensure that the programming is age-appropriate and offers educational value—you can check the program’s rating and preview it to ensure it’s appropriate for your child to watch. Switch off the device once the program is over.
  • Discuss the content with your child: It can be helpful to sit with your child while they watch television or videos, particularly when they are young. Point out good values and behaviors, like sharing, caring for others, and being a good citizen. As your child gets older, you can discuss the content of the programming with them and ask them about their thoughts on it.
  • Encourage other interests: Encourage your child to participate in non-screen related activities, such as sports, arts, music, puzzles, board games, and other hobbies and activities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that children get at least 60 minutes of physical activity per day.
  • Switch screens off before bedtime: Turn off all screens and put them away 30 to 60 minutes before your child goes to bed.
  • Discourage snacking while watching television: Don’t let your child eat meals or munch on snacks while watching television.
  • Discuss safety and privacy: When you feel your child is old enough, talk to them about safety and privacy online.
  • Set a good example: Be a good role model to your children by limiting your screen time, and putting your phone away at mealtimes and when you’re with your kids. Avoid leaving the television on in the background.
  • Avoid using screens as electronic babysitters: While it can be hard to give your child your full attention all the time, try and avoid using screens as babysitters while you’re occupied, or as pacifiers when they throw tantrums.
  • Consider your child’s habits: As your child gets older and becomes a teenager, you may need to adjust the rules. Consider their daily habits and maturity level as you buy them devices and set rules around screen time.

A Word From Verywell

Regardless of your child’s age, screen time should not replace time they need for sleeping, eating, studying, playing, and spending time with friends and family. With careful guidance, you can promote safe and positive use of screens in your family.

Was this page helpful?
8 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Library of Medicine. Screen time and children.

  2. Hill D, Ameenuddin N, Chassiakos YR, et al. American Academy of Pediatrics’ policy statement: Media use in school-aged children and adolescents. Pediatrics (2016) 138 (5): e20162592. doi:10.1542/peds.2016-2592

  3. American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. Screen time and children.

  4. Parent J, Sanders W, Forehand R. Youth screen time and behavioral health problems: the role of sleep duration and disturbances. J Dev Behav Pediatr. 2016;37(4):277-284. doi:10.1097/DBP.0000000000000272

  5. Stiglic N, Viner RM. Effects of screentime on the health and wellbeing of children and adolescents: a systematic review of reviews. BMJ Open. 2019;9(1):e023191. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2018-023191

  6. Twenge JM, Campbell WK. Associations between screen time and lower psychological well-being among children and adolescents: Evidence from a population-based study. Prev Med Rep. 2018;12:271-283. doi:10.1016/j.pmedr.2018.10.003

  7. Hill D, Ameenuddin N, Chassiakos YR, et al. American Academy of Pediatrics’ policy statement: Media and young minds. Pediatrics (2016) 138 (5): e20162591. doi:10.1542/peds.2016-2591

  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Screen time vs. lean time.

Additional Reading