Screen time: How much is too much?

Screens are everywhere these days. From apps and video games to TV, video conferences, and online classes, screen time adds up. More than ever, we connect to the outside world through screens. As a result, managing screen use—for children and adults—can be a challenge. Too much screen time can increase the risk of obesity, interfere with sleep, and prevent the development of healthy relationships. That’s why it’s important to find a healthy balance between screen time and offline time away from the digital world.

Rethinking screen time guidelines

Screen use guidelines often focus on time and set a daily maximum amount. Experts at organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics and Common Sense Media draw a distinction between screen quantity and content quality. All screens are not created equal. Some are educational, while others are just for fun. Some provide high-quality content that encourages curiosity and sparks the imagination, while others are merely a guilty pleasure.

Screens and kids: How to guide your child

Parents are particularly concerned about screen use among kids. However, some screen time can be educational and support a child’s social development. Screens are critical tools that give children access to education, entertainment, and social engagement. While excessive screen time may contribute to childhood obesity, active video games and exercise videos offer opportunities for physical activity.

Children need to stay in touch with friends and family. Video games and social media can offer meaningful experiences, and technology can help kids build stronger relationships. At the same time, parents can play an important role in helping kids learn healthy ways to use digital media.

Focus on good content. Common Sense Media is an independent, nonprofit organization that reviews digital media for kids and can help parents find age-appropriate, high-quality programs, games, and apps.

Limit digital media for younger kids. The American Academy of Pediatrics offers guidelines for managing children’s screen time.

  • Avoid digital media (other than video chatting) for toddlers younger than 18 to 24 months.
  • Watch digital media with children 18 to 24 months. Talk with kids about what you watch together and give them a chance to learn from your discussions.
  • Limit screen use for preschool children, ages 2 to 5, to an hour a day of high-quality content.

Be a good role model. Manage your own media use and spend quality time with your kids away from screens.

Encourage unplugged playtime. Unstructured offline play stimulates creativity, particularly in very young children.

Aim for a balance. Balance screen time with outdoor activities (or indoor activities without screens).

Keep mealtimes screen free. Eating meals together can help you build a stronger family and lower everyone’s risk of obesity.

Avoid screens one hour before bedtime. Screens emit blue light that can disrupt the body’s production of melatonin, a hormone that plays a key role in sleep. Keep screens out of your child’s bedroom and charge all devices outside of the bedroom at night.

Be informed. Get to know your children’s online friends. Understand what platforms, software, and apps your children are using, what websites they visit, and what they do online.

Use digital media with your kids. Play video games together and demonstrate good sportsmanship.

Talk to your kids. Watch a show together and then talk about it. Conversation is critical for language development. Plus, it’s more effective at improving language skills than passive listening.

Turn mistakes into teachable moments. Most children will make mistakes using digital media. Talk to your kids and help them learn from mistakes.

Screens and teens

Digital media, video games, and social media can help teens explore their interests and discover more about themselves. Online relationships are part of adolescent development. As a parent, you can help make sure your teen is behaving appropriately in the online world. Explain that cyberbullying and sharing personal information online is not allowed. Remind teens that a platform’s privacy settings don’t necessarily make things private. Once they share content with others, including texts of inappropriate images, it can never completely be deleted or removed.

Limiting screen time may be good for adults

Screen time among adults is on the rise, too. Excessive screen time can lead to a wide range of health problems, including eye strain, headaches, poor sleep, back pain, and repetitive-use injuries. Limiting screen time can help you stay active, reduce your risk of obesity, and maintain a healthy heart. According to the American Heart Association, reducing the amount of time you spend sitting in front of a screen may lower your risk of cardiovascular disease.

Here are some tips to help you manage your screen time and get moving:

  • Use a standing desk.
  • Take a walk when you’re talking on the phone.
  • Stand up and stretch every hour.
  • Track how much time you spend on apps.
  • Don’t eat in front of a screen.
  • Plan screen-free activities with family and friends.
  • Explore active hobbies and avoid watching too much TV during your downtime.
  • Avoid screens for an hour before bed.

Also, when using a computer, follow the 20-20-20 rule: Every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds.

Digital media is an integral part of everyday life. While excessive screen time can have negative health consequences, what we do online and the content we encounter are more important. The key is to find a healthy balance between screen time, physical activity, and spending face-to-face time with family and friends.