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What's the Appropriate Screentime for Toddlers?

Medically reviewed by Jobelle Ann Dela Cruz Bigalbal, MD · General Practitioner


Written by Sahlee Barrer · Updated Feb 17, 2022

What's the Appropriate Screentime for Toddlers?

These days, children are glued to their gadgets, whether it’s a cellphone, tablet, or mobile gaming device. Most devices present opportunities for learning, education, and interactive play. 

With TVs and tablets getting more focused on games and entertainment, too much screen time may be unhealthy for children.

Before mobile devices became the norm, toddlers learned by interacting with others and the world around them.

Physical activity and play were crucial elements of learning as running, climbing, and other adventures helped develop brain function, locomotor skills, and socialization.

Digital and mobile devices, such as laptops, tablets, and smartphones, were supposed to reinforce education. However, too much time spent on these tools has been found to have detrimental side effects.

Staring too much at a screen at a young age may be affecting early physical and mental progress.

Screen Time Recommendations for Toddlers: How much is too much?

Some studies have found that giving kids aged 2 to 5 access to screen time can result in delayed development.

Screentime included watching television, playing video games, or using a smartphone, computer or tablet.

Kids, on average, view screens up to three hours per day. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends only less than an hour of quality programming for kids.

Though the study does not prove a cause and effect link, the study on screen time for kids by age shows negative consequences on development. These include missed opportunities for learning. Examples are honing their gross motor skills, like biking or running. 

The bright lights of gadgets may also compromise brain development.

Scientists contend that many other factors come into play in a child’s development such as the food they eat.

While research into screen time and its impacts on children is still in the early stages, parents are encouraged to follow guidelines for screen time for kids by age.

In response to the growing preoccupation of children with digital devices, a panel of experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) developed new guidelines on physical activity, sedentary behavior, and sleep for children under 5 years of age.

Their recommendations are based on the effects of inadequate sleep, screen time, and inactivity on young children. The experts also assessed the benefits of increased activity in comparison.

The WHO made the following recommendations, highlighting screen time for kids by age:

Infants (less than 1 year):

  • Children should be physically active in various ways throughout the day, including through interactive floor-based play.
  • If not yet mobile, infants can stay in a prone position while awake for 30 minutes, spread throughout the day.
  • Children should not be restrained, in a crib, chair, bed, or stroller, for more than an hour at a time.
  • Storytelling is highly encouraged.
  • Children should have good quality sleep for 12–17 hours.
  • No screen time recommended.

Toddlers (1–2 years of age):

  • Toddlers should have 180 minutes of various forms of physical activity at different intensities throughout the day.
  • They should not be restrained for more than an hour at a time.
  • They should have good quality sleep for 11–14 hours.
  • Reading and storytelling are highly encouraged.
  • For 1-year-olds, no screen time is recommended. 
  • For 2-year-olds, screen time should not exceed 1 hour. 

Preschoolers (3-5 years of age):

  • Preschoolers should have at least 180 minutes of various physical activities at different intensities, at least 60 minutes of which should be moderate to vigorous, spread throughout the day.
  • They should not be restrained for more than an hour at a time.
  • They should have good quality sleep for 10–13 hours.
  • Reading and storytelling are highly encouraged.
  • Screen time should not exceed 1 hour. 

In the first five years of life, applying the WHO guidelines are expected to contribute to children’s motor and cognitive development and lifelong health.

Dr. Juana Willumsen, WHO focal point for childhood obesity and physical activity, stressed the need to bring back play in a child’s routine. This will mean shifting from a sedentary to active lifestyle. Of course, including restful sleep. 

It may be difficult to tear away children from their devices, but experts recommend that concerned parents follow guidelines on screen time for kids by age.

Screen time recommendations for Toddlers: How to Lessen Screen Time

Come up with a family media plan

Madigan suggested that families develop a media plan. “You decide how the devices are going to be used, where they’re used, how often they’re used. You really want to cultivate healthy habits around the use of devices,” she said.

Limit screen time even for adults

Parents can serve as good models and media mentors by showing their children that they too, can limit their own screen time.

Make screen time a family affair

Families can also have screen time together, rather than use devices as a babysitter to keep children quiet.

Make sure all content is educational and useful

Parents also need to know the games and apps used by their children. Some of these may actually be educational and useful. Educators and doctors often review games and apps, so parents can download credible and educational programs for their children.

Make non-screentime play into a child’s routine

Make sure to include non-screen time into children’s play, and if possible, spend this time with your children.

Hide gadgets during mealtimes

Ensure that devices are also out of the way during meal times to encourage family interaction.

Key Takeaways

Awareness of screen time recommendations for toddlers is important to ensure an early child development. But when used right, and with the proper programs, screen time is not always detrimental.

Provide all forms of opportunities and activities for learning and play, and with moderation, gadget use may also contribute to development in children.

Learn more about parenting toddlers, here.

Disclaimer

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Medically reviewed by

Jobelle Ann Dela Cruz Bigalbal, MD

General Practitioner


Written by Sahlee Barrer · Updated Feb 17, 2022

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