Managing Screen Time

Posted by Meade Davis - 25 October, 2018


As a teacher, I loved using iPads in my classroom. I planned for every single interaction my students had with them. It was always intentional, and I was confident it enhanced the valuable learning that was already taking place.

As a mom, I don’t want to think of lesson plans for my own child! I’m exhausted and I worry the iPad will become a reward, or pacifier, or babysitter, and yet…I know that the iPad can be a valuable educational tool. Conflicted.


When I think about screen time in my own house, I want to be as intentional about parameters and limitations as I was in the classroom. I know that toddler interactions with screens should be meaningful and limited, but I’m seeking expert advice on guidelines for this.

A Pediatrician's Advice

I sat down with Dr. Brian Patz of Huntsville Pediatric Associates to ask specifics about limiting screen time for children and ensuring interactions with screens are educational.

How do you define screen time?

Screen time is time on a television, tablet or phone.

How much screen time is appropriate for a 0-2-year-old?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) revised their recommendations about two years ago.  They used to recommend no screens under the age of 2, and for those older than 2, limit screen time to two hours per day or less. 

The newer guidelines suggest not letting children under 18 months on screens; however, video-chatting is okay with an adult present.

What about a 2-5-year-old?

For children 2-5 years old, limit their screen time to one hour per day of HIGH QUALITY content with parent supervision and interaction. 

Children older than 6 should have consistent limits on screen time.  Kids should not have screen time during meals, as this can increase the risk of obesity, and no screen time an hour before bed, because screen time can stimulate the brain and make it hard to get to sleep.

The AAP encourages parents to test any apps before a child uses them. The AAP also has developed a website to help families set up a Family Media Use Plan.

How can parents make screen time educational?

Some good places to look for educational content are Common Sense Media, PBS Kids, and Sesame Workshop.

One of the most important things to remember, especially in children under 6, is to use screen time as a way to interact and discuss things with your child.  Don't use screen time as a babysitter. 

Higher-order thinking skills are best established through unstructured and social play as well as parent-child interactions, not through digital media.

A Researcher's Advice

Last year, Randolph School hosted Dr. Georgene Troseth, Associate Professor of Psychology at Vanderbilt University. Dr. Troseth's research focuses on young children's development and their interactions with digital media. Like Dr. Patz, Dr. Troseth also emphasizes using digital media as a way to interact with children, and stresses the importance of dialogical questioning, asking open-ended questions that encourage discussion.

Finding good quality programming is essential. Dr. Troseth states, “Blues Clues, Go Diego, Dora the Explorer, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, and Sesame Street, were all developed by people who were researchers.”

She warns that some programs are not research based, “Baby Einstein just emerged from a woman who made these videos, probably to keep her child quiet, and her kid liked it, and so she started selling them at yard sales and art shows and it just became a thing. Based on research like ours, Baby Einstein was forced by the Federal Trade Commission to give back the money.”

Dr. Troseth challenges the AAP guidelines, suggesting they were “pulled from a hat” because of their lack of supporting research. “I think the AAP is very conservative. On  the one hand, if there is some harm that’s going to come from screens, they’re going to protect the kids, but on the other hand, they’re making intelligent, involved, caring parents feel guilty, and I think that’s the negative of those guidelines.”

She believes that parents are responsible for deciding how much screen time is too much for each individual child and argues that content matters much more than time or the type of screen.

A Teacher's Advice

Melissa Tucker, Randolph's Lower School Technology Integration Specialist and mom of a young toddler, weighs in on screen time limits.

alexander-dummer-150646-unsplash-1"You may think that since I am the Technology Integration Specialist, that I believe in screen time all day every day, but that couldn’t be further from the truth," says Mrs. Tucker. "In addition to being a teacher, I am also a mother. I believe it is important to pay attention to what type of screen time young children are having."

Lower School Technology at Randolph consists of coding, logical thinking, and digital citizenship. You may be surprised to hear that about half of the technology lessons in our Lower School incorporate zero "plugged in" technology. Instead, Mrs. Tucker plans tech-free, hands-on lessons that incorporate coding and logical thinking concepts without ever touching an electronic device.

"If kids are interacting and learning from technology, I believe it can be a great learning tool, but it must still be used in moderation," says Mrs. Tucker. "Learning without a device helps students grasp abstract concepts and work collaboratively with each other."


Photos by Patricia PrudenteAlexander Dummer,  Sweet Ice Cream Photography on Unsplash 

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Topics: preschool, social/emotional learning, technology, educational technology, toddlers

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