How Much Screen Time is Too Much Screen Time for Children?

Are we addicted to technology? This is a fair question and many researchers have found that a high percentage of Americans are addicted to their phones. Unfortunately, this includes young, impressionable teenagers. In fact, a recent poll found 50% of young adults believe they are addicted to their mobile devices. Moreover, 80% of teens say they check their phone hourly, and 72% feel the need to respond to a text message immediately.

The Culprit: Tech Companies 

If you’re scratching your head and wondering how we, as a society, got to this point, you can blame social media and gaming companies, like Facebook, Instagram, and Candy Crush. According to Adam Alter, an associate professor of marketing and psychology at New York University, our compulsive need to click buttons and scroll through social media feeds is similar to how toddlers respond to lift buttons: the flashing lights and musical cues cause our dopamine levels to rise.

Alter told the NewStatesman, “When we experience ­pleasure, [like] eating ice cream, or receiving a Facebook Like, our levels of the hormone dopamine rise. People can become addicted to a substance or behavior when they start relying on this dopamine rush as an emotional salve, perhaps for feelings of depression, or loneliness, or worthlessness. In this way, Fitbit fanatics and [drug] addicts are both chasing dopamine highs – [drugs] are just a stronger and more direct way of achieving the hit.”

It’s scary and unsettling when a professional can make the link between an addictive substance and technology, but it’s important we fully comprehend the nature of technology and its effect on young adults and children. As such, the American Academy of Pediatricsrecognized the need to limit digital media exposure for children of all ages. The AAP recently hosted a conference in San Francisco with more than 10,000 pediatricians in attendance, and during the conference, new guidelines for social media use were announced.

New Screen Time Guidelines 

The Academy once set a general screen time limit for children over the age of two. At the time, they recommended children get no more than two hours in front of the TV each day. However, in today’s environment, defining screen time can be difficult – so adjustments have been made to accommodate the 24-hour digital media cycle. The new guidelines can be seen below: 

  • Screen time is defined as “time spent using digital media for entertainment purposes.”
  • Using technology for online homework does not count.
  • Children between the ages of two and five years old should limit their screen time to one hour per day.
  • Children over the age of six will need to be monitored regularly, and according to the Academy, it’s up to the parents to determine how long technology is used.
  • Infants under the age of 18 months should not be exposed to any digital media.

No Screen Time for Babies

Cutting off technology completely may be difficult to do, but it’s imperative infants 18 months and younger are not exposed to any kind of technology. According to experts, banning screen time for babies ensures healthy brain development and strong parent-child connections.

According to Dr. Yolanda Reid Chassiakos, an assistant professor at UCLA and the lead author of the Children and Adolescents and Digital Media Technical Report, “The noise and activity of a screen are distracting for a child. Even if the baby isn't directly looking at the screen -- for example, if a mother is nursing her child on the couch while watching TV -- the baby can be overstimulated by the lights and sounds, which may cause distress and sleep problems.” 

To limit screen time, try designating media-free times and areas around your home, such as no screen time during dinner, no screen time in bedrooms or bathrooms, and no screen time on the weekends. Instead, encourage extracurricular activities like sports, art & crafts, or music. To learn more about what you can do to limit screen time, please visit The American Academy of Pediatrics’ Media and Communication Toolkit.

The advice and information contained in this article are for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace or counter a physician’s advice or judgment. Please always consult your physician before taking any advice learned here or in any other educational medical material.