How Much Screen Time Is Too Much?

By Jessica Jackson
January 25, 2023
two young boys on the sofa in a cabin playing on their tablets

When it comes to kids, electronic devices get a bad rap. But let’s face it — these days, iPads and smartphones can be a classroom tool, a way to stay connected to friends and family, and a source of entertainment. Still, too much screen time may lead to negative effects. That’s why, as a parent, it’s important to help your child develop healthy habits and set guidelines around screens. How much screen time is too much? How do you draw the line in a hyper-connected world?

Here are some tips for setting up successful screen-time boundaries. 

What Is Screen Time? 

Screen time is the amount of time spent using electronic devices such as smartphones, tablets, and computers. It can also include watching TV and playing video games. 

Effects of Too Much Screen Time

A growing body of evidence suggests that excessive screen time has negative physiological and psychological effects. For example, one study found that toddlers who interacted with screens more at ages 24 and 36 months performed more poorly on a screening measure assessing development milestones at 36 and 60 months. A meta-analysis looking at children through age 18 found that screen time was associated with negative psychological outcomes, while “green time,” or contact with nature, was associated with positive psychological outcomes. Another study found that excessive screen time exacerbated suicidal behavior in tweens.

According to the National Library of Medicine, excessive screen time for kids could lead to: 

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Increased risk of attention disorders, anxiety, and depression
  • Increased risk of weight gain due to decreased physical activity

Average Screen Time for Kids by Age

Common Sense Media reports that tweens are using devices for 4 hours and 44 minutes per day, and teens are using screens for 7 hours and 22 minutes per day. 

How Much Screen Time Is Too Much?

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. Every family and child is different, so it’s important to consider your individual needs when deciding how much screen time is appropriate. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has clear guidelines limiting screen time for children under two years old:

Under 18 monthsScreen time is discouraged, except for video chatting
18 to 24 monthsHigh-quality programming or apps, used together with caregivers. Children in this age range should not use media by themselves.
Over 2 years Screen use should not exceed 1 hour per day of high-quality programming. View or play on devices with your children, and to engage in plenty of screen-free activities with your children as well. 

For kids aged 5 and older, the AAP previously advised they should have less than two hours of screen time per day. They've since changed their approach because most kids use screens for more than two hours daily, and not all screen time is the same. Now, they recommend that families create a plan that works best for them, considering their children's screen usage and their family's unique needs. They also urge parents to help their children develop healthy media habits in their early years. 

Additionally, you may want to create rules that limit screen time during certain times of the day or week, such as mealtime and bedtime. 

The AAP also encourages parents to ensure that their children get sufficient sleep, physical activity, and plenty of media-free activity. Additionally, the AAP suggests that bedrooms should be a screen-free zone. 

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) has produced similar guidelines, and also recommend that parents turn off all screens during family meals, educate themselves on parental controls, and avoid using screens to babysit children or to quiet a child who is upset. 

To encourage quality sleep, the AACAP suggests that screens should be removed from bedrooms 30-60 minutes before bed. 

While recommendations start with the baby years, there’s no need to feel guilty if you’re still in the process of learning about the guidelines or if your child is used to more screen time than the guidelines recommend. It’s never too late to start healthy screen time habits. 

What Are Some Alternatives to Screen Time? 

Screen time isn’t inherently bad – in fact, it can be an educational tool if used the right way. But there are plenty of other activities that can keep your child entertained and engaged. Here are some screen-free activities to consider:

  • Outdoor play. When kids are used to a lot of online time, they might be resistant to playing outside. But typically, it takes only a few minutes for a child to find something to immerse themselves in. We all benefit from fresh air and sunshine. 
  • Reading. If your child isn’t a fan of independent reading, try reading together — even older children can get into a fun chapter book when it’s a shared activity. 
  • Arts and crafts. Engaging your child’s creative brain can be beneficial when balancing out screen time. 
  • Cooking or baking. Kids love to cook and bake, and if not, they’ll love the result!
  • Board games or puzzles. Friendly competition between family members strengthens relationships. 
  • Playing with toys or dolls. Imaginative games with real-life toys help children role-play lifelike interactions and sort out real feelings.  
  • Building with blocks or LEGO. There’s a certain satisfaction in creating something from a pile of blocks and bricks in a box.  

How to Check Screen Time on iPhone

To check screen time on your child’s iPhone, go to Settings, then click Screen Time. From there, you can monitor and manage your child’s device usage. 

To check your child’s screen time from your device, Family Sharing must be active for your children. Go to Settings, Screen Time, then choose the child whose screen time you’d like to view. In addition to viewing their total time online, you can set a number of controls, such as down times, content restrictions, and you can block specific apps from being used. 

How to Check Screen Time on Android

To check screen time on your Android, open the Settings app and scroll down to "Digital Wellbeing & Parental Controls." This will give you access to various tools that allow you to monitor and manage your child’s device usage as well as control content restrictions. You can also set limits for individual apps or overall total daily screen time. 

How to Implement Healthy Screen Time Rules

It’s never too early or too late to put healthy device boundaries in place. Here’s how to go about it. 

  1. See what your kids' screen time usage is now. You can do this by using apps such as Screen Time (iPhone) or Digital Wellbeing & Parental Controls (Android). This will give you a better understanding of when and how your kids are using their devices.
  2. Implement a digital device contract. Once you have an idea of your children’s current screen time usage, it’s time to set healthy rules. Create guidelines around device use including setting limits on hours and type of content allowed. Not sure where to start? We’ve listed some sample guidelines below, and you can download a free customizable digital device template.
  3. Consider implementing “screen-free” zones in your home such as the dining room or bedrooms. In “screen-free” zones, screens are not allowed at all. 
  4. Familiarize yourself with monitoring tools, and choose one that is easy to use. That way, you can keep a thumb on your children’s online activity and you’ll know if they run into content that’s too much for them at their age and maturity level. 
  5. When it comes to enforcing rules around screen time, consistency is key. Be sure to follow through with consequences if limits are exceeded or rules are broken. 

Examples of Screen Time Guidelines

  • No screens before school
  • No screens at the dinner table
  • No devices in bedrooms after 8pm
  • Weekday screen time limited to one hour per day (choose your time limit based on age and the child’s maturity level)
  • Weekend screen time limited to two hours per day (choose your time limit based on age and the child’s maturity level)
  • Homework and chores must be completed before screen time begins
  • Your grown-ups will monitor your device activity
  • For every x hours you spend online, play outdoors for y hours
  • You can have extra time on educational apps like Prodigy or Khan Academy

These are meant to get you started. You don’t have to use all of these, and you don’t have to implement them all at once. Pick a few at first, and see how they work for your family. It can be overwhelming to make several changes in one swoop, so start slow and add guide rails incrementally. 

The Bottom Line

Creating healthy screen time habits for your family can help keep everyone safe, connected and engaged in activities other than screens. It’s important to set limits on the amount of screen time your child is allowed each day. When deciding what works for your household, consider how much time you as a parent want to allow, be mindful of your child’s current habits, and then set limits depending on your child’s age and development stage. Start with small increments and work up from there as needed. 

When it comes to setting limits on screen time for kids and teens, having clear guidelines in place will help them stay healthy and create balance in their lives. Make sure they are following AAP recommendations and that they are engaging in other activities such as outdoor play, reading and socializing with friends. Additionally, monitoring activity can be a great way to ensure your teen is staying within set guidelines.

Be the most informed parent in the room.
Sign up for bimonthly digital parenting updates.
Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.
@2024 Tacita, Inc. All Rights Reserved.