We all know watching too much TV or staring at our phones or computers for too long can harm our eyes, we’ve all been through those headaches. Babies and toddlers however, have new and sensitive eyes that are still developing and cannot handle nearly the same amount of screen time as adults can. So is it okay to allow our children to watch TV with us or watch videos on our phones? When is too young and what’s the limit for toddler screen time?
Doctors might tell you one thing but as busy and exhausted parents, we’ll probably add a little to that number…
Hi, I’m Paula. I’m a stay at home mom of two children and I abuse toddler screen time. If you do too, welcome to Screen Time’s Anonymous!
Mom's Addiction to Toddler Screen Time
For me, the addiction started when my second child was born.
I started putting the TV on for my one year old to keep him distracted so that I could keep an eye on him while I nursed the baby.
Since then I’ve put it for him when he starts getting too grumpy or jealous, while I cook or clean, or when his sister is sleeping and I need him to stay quiet.
When I realize how much screen time he’s gotten I feel guilty and disappointed in myself because I know it’s not good for him. But it’s the only way I get anything done around the house. I’m always behind on my house chores anyway.
Although we haven’t let our kids use handheld devices much yet, the same applies.
Without screen time how would we juggle everything or stay sane?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) say that screen time leads to slower brain development and lower psychological abilities as well as sleep disruption and obesity.
In one article they wrote, “New research being presented at the 2017 Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting suggests children [exposed to handheld screen time] may be at higher risk for speech delays.”
My Personal View
I cannot say that I disagree. Personally, I believe that a child that is hooked to a screen for a large portion of the day will be more interested in staring into the lights than communicating because there is a lack of call and response.
I think that’s why they invented shows like Blue’s Clues, Dora the Explorer, and, more recently, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and Daniel Tiger, where the characters talk directly to the audience and encourage children to respond back.
Part of me doesn’t like my kids watching TV. However, some children are hyperactive, clingy, or may be having an off day. And sometimes TV helps everyone take a breath.
I know, because sometimes my daughter gets moody and I have to resort to Youtube and play the ‘Pollito Pio’ video at least once to calm her down. For our road trip a few months ago, I had to put it on replay so that she would stop screaming! I don’t know why but it was literally the only thing that would calm her down.
Sometimes playing a silly child based video can actually be good for them. Not only does it calm them down when they’re moody, but sometimes they actually learn from it.
My daughter learned a couple words from just her favorite video- speech delay my ass (sorry)!
All joking aside, as long as it’s not abused I think it’s perfectly fine to allow screen time.
Loosening Restrictions: Minimum Age of 18 Months
I feel like these guidelines against screen time were put out there much more strictly a few years ago but it seems the critics are starting to realize it’s not as bad as they thought.
They probably recently became parents themselves and started to value screen time for their children firsthand!
The pediatricians’ group loosened up their original stance against TV time. Although your pediatrician might still judge you, admitting that now is a “time of digital media and screens” and instead of fighting it to embrace it but in a healthy manner.
Now the minimum age is no longer set at 2 years but, instead, 18 months because babies’ visual processing system is still developing and the effects of rapid-fire lights (usually LED’s) from screens are the main concern.
You could compare this to staring at the sun, people with astigmatism, driving at night with a migraine, or even if you spend hours in a dark room looking at a screen- you start to see spots and that can’t be good for you!
Can you imagine what that does to a child with developing eyesight and brain functions if exposed too long!?
AAP Screen Time Recommendations
Once a child is 2 years old, their eyes and brains are a bit more developed to handle screens- with limitations of course.
The AAP encourages being selective about what your child is watching, it should be “high quality media.” Meaning, if they’re going to watch something then it should be age appropriate, non-violent, and educational.
They also encourage that parents be participative to prevent what they call “passive screen viewing.” Not just by sitting nearby but by communicating about what you’re watching, relating it to real-life conditions, and making sure they’re not “zoning out.”
It is also the parents’ job to set ground rules, like setting a limit of screen time (AAP recommends maximum one hour for children two and older, which most people will admit is unrealistic) and communicating when and how other people in the household use their screen time.
What Actually Happens Most of the Time
The AAP is probably right about this, however as much as I’d love to limit my children’s screen time to one hour a day, I can’t.
There are days in which, my child watches for more than an hour at a time. Then there are days when my child gets no screen time because we had a busy day. And other days I go to bed feeling guilty for the excessive amount of screen time.
I encourage communicating clearly that screen time is to be shared within the household.
It’s very important to establish boundaries. Our children need to understand that they are not in charge of screen time, or in charge of anything in general, and that it has to be shared.
For example, on an average night, my husband comes home and while I talk to him about his day and prepare dinner. So I sit my kids down and let them watch one of their shows for a little bit while we have a short uninterrupted conversation. But once it’s over, we explain that it’s mommy’s and daddy’s turn or time to watch as a family.
This doesn’t always go perfectly. Sometimes it results in tantrums and tears, sometimes they have mixed reactions of disappointment and understanding. But this method is effective and very important.
Find Something Else they Like
The AAP encourages replacing screen time with pretty much anything else.
Recently, my son has developed a love of jigsaw puzzles, where he can do them on his own without frustration.
After dinner, we usually sit on the couch and watch TV as a family. Now we sit down while he does puzzles on the ottoman. We also interact with him during his puzzle building.
It’s a relief for me that he has this new hobby because my husband and I can do what we want without feeling guilty about having our kids watch TV for another hour.
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My name is Paula and I’m a mom of two scrumptious cuties. Thanks Mommy Blog became a project for me to help guide other new moms and current moms through any of my own personal experiences and struggles. My hobbies include singing, doing jigsaw puzzles, baking, designing and trying to stay creative.