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? What are the effects of screen time during toddler development? When is too young? And what/how should we limit our children’s 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!
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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?
AAP Studies On Screen Time for Toddler Development
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 On Screen Time for Toddler Development
I cannot say that I disagree with these studies. 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 interactive shows like Blue’s Clues, Dora the Explorer, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, and Daniel Tiger, where the characters talk directly to the audience and encourage children to respond back.
It’s hard to not feel guilty about my kids getting so much screen time. But it’s so helpful for balancing out moods or hyperactivity. And sometimes TV helps everyone take a breath.
When my daughter was almost one, she would get impatient, particularly on long drives. Somehow we discovered that a particular youtube video would calm her down. Unfortunately, it was the only one that worked so we had to put it on repeat.
On a road trip, our daughter was getting antsy and the only thing that calmed her was her favorite video so I had to improvise with our iPad. I hung her bib on the headrest and put it inside the bib pocket. Mom hack!
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.
As long as it’s not abused, I think it’s perfectly fine to allow screen time for toddlers without negatively affecting their brain development.
In some cases, it actually positively affects their brain development. My daughter learned a couple words from just her favorite video- speech delay my ass (sorry)!
Loosening Restrictions: Minimum Age of 18 Months
Personally, I believe guidelines against toddler screen time were put out much more strictly a few years ago. But it seems the critics are starting to realize it’s not as bad as they thought for a child’s brain development.
In fact, these critics probably loosened the restrictions after becoming parents themselves and learned to value toddler screen time firsthand!
The pediatricians’ group is also more realistic now with their current stance on toddler screen time for toddler development. Although your pediatrician might still judge you, the group now admits that now is a “time of digital media and screens” and encourage embracing it 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.
These rapid-fire lights are comparable to staring at the sun, 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 Children's 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.
How To Limit Children's Screen Time Usage
So how should we go about allowing screen time for our toddlers without negatively affecting their development? With limitations of course!
As the AAP recommended, there are several ways to limit children’s screen time usage. This is what I’d suggest:
Be In Control
There’s nothing wrong with children having screen time. But it’s important to establish rules.
For example, devices belong to the parents or the family and that we share them with our children. Another example is that screen time is earned and can be easily be taken away.
There are other types of controls that we can adjust within the settings of our devices. Such as a tablet’s parental controls.
When we establish these controls, our children develop a better sense of respect for us and a better attitude about the privilege of screen time. We can begin teaching these controls to our young toddlers and set more controls and lessons as they get older and earn more valuable screen time.
Boundaries within screen time are crucial for children.
These boundaries can include setting a time limit for your child, allowing only specific applications, or only allowing your child to have screen time as a reward for good behavior.
For example, I’m very picky about my children’s screen time. I refuse to allow my children to watch TV or play on the tablet all day. But there are days when I’m so busy around the house or I’m not feeling well and it’s my best option. So I make sure that if they will be having any screen time that it’s somewhat educational. I’ve explored several kids shows and mobile applications that we truly enjoy and they’ve learned a lot from.
Replace It With Something Else They Enjoy
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.