Pros & Cons of Screen Time for Small Kids

Screen time is a double edged sword for parents. On one hand, it can be educational and entertaining for children. But on the other, it can interfere with healthy sleep and other key areas of child development. How can you strike a balance and enjoy the benefits without the drawbacks? Let’s find out!

What’s good about screen time?

Screen time offers a way for children to communicate, bond, and interact with friends and family outside of their home. Often, children use devices, like Apple and Android, as learning tools, allowing them to navigate through educational apps and better understand how technology works. Children who engage in screen time, especially with handheld devices, iPhones, iPads or computers, may be more prepared to use the same tools when they’re introduced at school. And some apps can even support healthy behavior, such as regular exercise and good food choices.

Screens can offer a break for parents, too. A short screen time session could offer parents time to make dinner, finish some work, or just get some alone time. Sometimes it’s a much needed pause button for daily life to allow both parent and child to slow down and recharge.

What’s not so good about screen time?

While some apps can offer benefits, there are significant drawbacks. Children who engage in sedentary screen time could be at risk of becoming overweight. Behavior problems can be an issue, too, as children who have excessive access to screens are more likely to experience emotional, social or attention problems.

Sleep is an especially important concern when it comes to screen time. When kids use screens too much, especially right before bed, they can experience sleep issues. The light from screens can be confusing for their circadian rhythm, which makes it difficult to get to sleep easily and could even lead to insomnia.

How much screen time is too much?

Consider quantity when it comes to using devices. Some can be good, but too much can be harmful. Monitor how much time children are getting overall. Here are some basic age related guidelines:

World Health Organization screen usage recommendations for small children.

The World Health Organization suggests that infants two and under have no screen time at all. They also suggest that children ages 2 to 4 should have no more than one hour of sedentary screen use per day which includes playing video games or watching movies/videos. Time durations can increase with age but parents need to be sure that infants and small children are meeting other required activities throughout the day before allowing devices.

American Academy of Pediatrics suggests very little screen time for small children.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, discourages electronic media use for children under 18 months of age, and suggests limiting screen time for children ages 2 to 5 to one hour per day. They go on to say that their one hour of use should be only high-quality programs/apps.

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Does quality of screen time matter?

Certain types of screen time is better than others. Educational apps, learning tv programs, even online interaction can offer positive growth opportunities. Pay attention to what kids are doing on their screens and consider whether their activities offer benefits. Quality or not, it should still count as part of your time limits.

Does time of day matter when using electronic devices?

Yes! Screen time at night or before bed can be more harmful for sleep than daytime device use. When kids are exposed to screens at night, it sends an alert signal to their brains, confusing their circadian rhythm with signals that it’s daytime because the eye is taking in light. That can make it tough for kids to wind down, get in bed, and get to sleep. It may also lower the quality of their sleep. Set a clear limit on nighttime screen use, and shut down devices each night at least one hour before bed.

The best way to manage device use for small children.

Allowing kids device time can have benefits and drawbacks, but with a good balance you can maximize the benefits and avoid major drawbacks. Setting limits is a great way to offer the balance kids need.

Consider your child’s habits and what works for them (and you), but make clear rules to establish an upper limit of how much screen time kids can take in each day.

Kids can benefit from screen use, but there can be too much of a good thing. Practice healthy limits on screen time so children can enjoy and learn from it, but still be active, happy and sleep well at night!


  1. Laurel Waddell

    November 30, 2019 at 11:40 pm

    Reading this article made me curious as to what older generations did when they needed to keep the kids occupied. I’ll have to ask my grandparents!

  2. Rachel Chalfant

    October 19, 2019 at 12:34 am

    We have been struggling with this a lot with our 3 year old. Balancing his needs + the needs of 9 month old twins is a lot so he often ends up on the iPad more than I’d like. Making a conscious effort to decrease time spent on it has really helped!

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