Media Guidelines for Kids – How Much Screen Time Is Enough?

We live in a world where media is pretty much everywhere. Hence, it’s not surprising that kids today are too obsessed with television and movies, the Internet and social media, and video games. That is why media guidelines for kids exist and why parents must abide by them.
At a Glance
  • Children today spend an average of seven hours a day on entertainment media alone.
  • Too much screen time has the following risks: (1) negative effects on health, (2) exposure to harmful, unsuitable, or misleading content, (3) interaction with bad and abusive people, and (4) violation of privacy.
  • Parents must demonstrate to their kids how to use media as a tool for learning, creativity, and communication.
  • To help parents, the AAP made recommendations on how much screen time is suitable for kids of varying ages.


In fact, children today spend an average of seven hours a day looking at screens just for entertainment. This means they have very little time left for anything else [Source: AAP]. The growing dependence on digital media is not exactly a bad thing, but too much of it isn’t exactly a good idea either. So, as a responsible parent, how will you know how much screen time is enough?

Why Media Exposure Matters

The time children spend looking at the screens of their computers and smartphones is not always just for leisure. They may be using digital media as a tool to gather information and learn new things. They may also be using it as a platform to express themselves and be creative. It may even satisfy their need to interact with other people even though the conversation is all online.

Parents can’t afford to immediately decide that media time for children is a terrible thing. However, that doesn’t mean that children should get an unlimited amount of screen time. It is a privilege they must not be allowed to abuse. Instead, today’s parents should acknowledge the impact of digital media in their children’s lives. Then, they must figure out how to regulate media use while maximizing the benefits that kids get from it.

Little girl using tablet outdoors

Main Categories of Screen Time

In order to make the most of your child’s limited screen time, you must first learn about the uses of media. According to Common Sense Media, the following are the four main categories of screen time:

Passive UseReading, TV watching or video streaming, and/or listening to music
Interactive UsePlaying video games and/or Internet browsing
CommunicationUsing social media platforms and/or chatting online
Content CreationUsing tech gadgets to write, create visual art and/or make music

Benefits of Media Use

As previously mentioned, a child can gain a lot from consuming or using media. Children and teenagers between the ages 5 and 18 will reap the following benefits:

  • Gain more knowledge and learn new information on a variety of topics.
  • Be introduced to new ideas and innovative ways of thinking.
  • Get more opportunities to interact with others and find support online.

Dangers of Too Much Media Use

Parents should take a very active stand in dealing with their children’s media use [Source: AAP]. It’s definitely not a good sign if so much screen time has left very little opportunity for your child to do other productive activities. Instead of just playing video games all day, your kid could spend a bit of time exercising. He could also pick up a new kids sport or gain an interest in suitable hobbies for children. Sadly, this detachment from the real world is seen in many kids today. What’s even more troubling is that too much media use could really affect your child’s health and development negatively.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the following are some of the risks that come with too much media use:

  • It might affect your child’s health negatively (e.g., weight issues, lack of sleep, use of caffeine, etc.).
  • Your kid is in danger of reading or watching harmful, unsuitable, or misleading content.
  • The child may meet people online who are bad and abusive.
  • You kid’s right to a private life might get violated.

Role of Parents

Children themselves may not realize if their media use is already unhealthy. As such, it is up to the parents to make sure that their children’s media experience is always positive. To achieve this, parents must become their children’s “mentor.” They must teach their kids how to spend their screen time wisely by being their role model. They must show how media can be used as a tool to learn, to create, and to communicate with others [Source: AAP].

Goals of Media Mentors

To become a role model and “media mentor” to your children, you must do the following:

  • Find out the types and amount of media currently used by every member of the family.
  • Set limits on how much screen time and which types of media are acceptable.
  • Schedule media-free times (e.g., dinner time) and establish media-free areas at home (e.g., bedroom).
  • Promote activities that are likely to improve your child’s health and development (e.g., physical activity, sleeping, tutoring, play time, etc.).
  • Inform other caregivers (e.g., babysitters, grandparents, etc.) about your rules on screen time. This will ensure that your child will always follow them [Source: AAP Publications].
  • Encourage your kids to talk freely about media within the family.
  • Work with pediatricians to develop a plan on how your family will use media [Source: AAP Publications].

How Much Screen Time Is Suitable for Kids?

In 2016, the AAP made recommendations on how much screen time is suitable for kids of different ages. You may refer to the table below and use it as a guide when setting screen time limits at home.

Below 18 months oldNo screen time other than video-chatting.
18 to 24 months oldScreen time should be limited to high-quality programming with educational value only.

Parents should co-view the program with their children to help them comprehend what they’re watching.
2 to 5 years oldLimit screen time to 1 hour per day of high-quality programming with educational value.

Parents should co-view the program with their children to help them comprehend what they’re watching and how they apply to the real world.
5 to 11 years oldSet reasonable boundaries and designate media-free areas at home.

Limit media exposure to age-appropriate content that engages the imagination and teaches the right values.
12+ years oldSet reasonable boundaries and designate media-free areas at home.

Encourage and respect their privacy.
[Source: Child Mind Institute]

In today’s world, our kids are totally bombarded with a wide range of technology, like cell phones, computers, tablets, even just the television. And while making kids ready for the digital age is important, you might be wondering at what point you should limit your child’s technology use. The truth is there’s no one simple answer – every situation is different, but you want to make sure your child has a healthy, balanced life. Here are some tips to help you better manage your child’s technology use, without cutting them off from the amazing educational and social benefits this technology has to offer.

Keep track of the time they are spending

It’s difficult to provide a definitive answer to how much time spent in front of a screen is too much, and setting a timer isn’t always the best solution to this problem. However, keeping track of how much time your kids are spending in front of a screen can help you get a better gauge of what’s normal and what’s not. For example, if your child has been very busy with school and has barely been on the computer at all, it’s okay to let them have some extra time online over a break. However, if they have been spending an increasing amount of time online and neglecting other things, you may want to set some limitations.

Encourage other hobbies

Kids love the internet because it connects them to a broader world and helps them explore new things. Giving them other ways to explore the world around them will help them develop a healthy balance outside of the computer. Being available to take your child to the park or helping them find extracurricular activities to explore will ensure that they don’t get stuck in front of the screen all day.

Watch for the signs of overuse

When we start spending too much time in front of a screen, there are many negative symptoms that can develop. For example, many people who spend all day in front of the computer experience sleep deprivation, mood disorders, and other issues. If you notice these changes in your child’s health, it may be time to cut back on technology time.


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