Between tablets, smartphones, endless TV programming and kid-friendly movies, you may find it really tough to keep your toddler away from screens — but here’s the thing: You don’t have to completely avoid them!
We spoke to our go-to pediatrician, Dr. Payal Adhikari, to learn about how much screen time little ones should really be getting…and her thoughts might surprise you. Spoiler alert: The rules are not set in stone…and contrary to popular belief, they don’t say you need to keep your kiddos far away from screens at all costs. Here’s what Dr. Adhikari had to say about the issue.
If your little one is under 18 months old, you may want to keep him or her away from the TV — the doctor is in favor of almost total avoidance of screen during this stage. There is an exception, though: If Grandma wants to Facetime or Skype with your baby, that’s fair game. According to Dr. Adhikari, social use of screens is ust fine even for the under-18-month set.
Quality is as important as quantity
“After 18 months, [I’d recommend] really limited screen time, and it should only be for really high-quality educational programming — things that can teach kids to count, or help them learn colors,” Dr. Adhikari said. She suggested keeping daily screen exposure under an hour. Family or social time doesn’t count, so feel free to add a Skype call into the mix after your babe has had that hour of TV or iPad time.
Make it a family affair
We all need a break, and TV time seems like the ideal time to get one. But according to Dr. Adhikari, this may not be the best plan. “It should always be supervised when they’re using electronics,” she said. “The American Academy of Pediatrics really wants [screen time] to be engaging — they want parents to be [talking to] kids while they’re watching TV. “
…But don’t feel bad if you need to take a minute
Dr. Adhikari understands that sometimes a busy parent needs to get things done, and that allowing his or her little one to watch something educational can make this way more doable. “It’s usually not that practical [to be engaging with your child during screen time],” she admitted. “I sometimes do the opposite. If I need to quickly make dinner or something like that, it can be time to let your kids decompress as long as they’re supervised.”
Understand the dangers
Limiting screen time is important, and it’s crucial for parents to understand why. There’s the relatively obvious point: Too much time spent in front of a screen makes for a sedentary lifestyle, and kids need physical activity. It’s also important to think of the dangers that may not seem totally applicable to toddlers, though — kids can easily stumble upon content that isn’t age-appropriate even when they’re this young.
But remember the benefits as well!
According to Dr. Adhikari, there are parents who think screen time is to be avoided entirely…but that isn’t necessarily the truth! “Kids can learn a lot from TV,” Dr. Adhikari explained. “It’s important to expose them and not to feel guilty about it. Kids need decompression and parents do as well — when there are educational things to watch, they can be beneficial for everybody.”
Dr. Adhikari’s take on the one-hour daily limit for screen time? Stick to it as best you can…but don’t feel like it’s set in stone. If your kids don’t get any screen time one day, they can have a little more the next day. And if you have a little one who is sick and would love to watch movies in bed? That’s fine! Remember that these are guidelines, not absolutes.
Model good behavior
“Kids are always watching their parents with their phones out,” Dr. Adhikari pointed out. “Another side of limiting kids’ screen time is limiting our own. It’s important to put our phones away — literally in a drawer or out of sight when you’re with your kids. If they see us using it, they don’t understand why they shouldn’t.”
About the expert: Dr. Payal Adhikari is a board-certified pediatrician at Child and Adolescent Health Associates and expectant parents teacher at Prentice Women’s Hospital in Chicago.