Nicole Tutaj, MA, OTR/L
Managing screen time in this digital age is something many of us struggle with. What’s the right amount of screen time my child should have? What should they be watching? Is it so bad? These are just a few of the questions many occupational therapists receive from parents who are in a daily battle over screen time with their kids.
Why is it important to manage screen time?
According to the CDC, 1 in 6 children were diagnosed with a developmental disability (i.e., autism, ADHD/ADD, cerebral palsy, etc.) during a study period of 2009-2017. Additionally, 1 in 36 children are diagnosed with Autism (CDC, 2022). Screen time can impact a child’s speech, physical, and emotional health (Norton Children’s Hospital). Prolonged screen time has been shown to affect sleep routines due to excessive blue light exposure, limit face-to-face interactions which impacts their social and emotional skills, and screens do not provide children with opportunities for appropriate sensory and developmental play to ensure they are reaching their milestones.
What is the recommended amount of screen time?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends:
- No screen time for children under 18 months, except video chat, as they are still engaging with another person
- <1 hour of educational screen time for children 2 years and older
- Co-viewing with your child to help monitor what they watch and interact with them to make the content more meaningful
- Ensure screen-free bedrooms
- No screen time at least 2 hours before bed, the blue light from screens can impact sleep making it more difficult to fall and stay asleep
Alternatives to screen time:
- Have them join you in everyday life activities (cooking, putting things away, cleaning)
- Provide access to sensory bins filled with various materials (rice, beans, sand, water, pom poms). This encourages development of fine motor skills, sensory processing, and encourages imaginary play.
- Arts and crafts
- Puzzles, building blocks, play dough, pretend play
- Spend time outside, go to the park, for a walk, or ride a bike
- Build forts and obstacle courses with pillows and blankets
Not all screen time is bad. We use it every day to help us connect with others, find resources, and learn new things. However, it is important to monitor what kids are watching and set limits to ensure they also engage in play and everyday life activities to help them develop numerous skills.