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Screen Time for Toddlers: What You Need to Know

Written by: Kokotree

Last updated:

Screen time toddlers active passive

If you’re a parent, you’ve probably heard about screen time. Screens are great at holding your child’s attention better than anything else. Screens also give parents much-needed time to relax. But is screen time good for toddlers? Why are some experts saying it’s terrible? What is the appropriate amount of screen time for toddlers?

What is screen time?

“Screen time is the amount of time spent using a device with a screen such as a smartphone, computer, television, or video game console.” 

— Wikipedia

Did you know there are 2 types of screen time?

PASSIVE vs. ACTIVE

  1. Passive screen time is mentally inactive—watching cartoons with no educational value, purely entertainment-based content, like turning on YouTube and using “the screen” to “babysit” your child.
  2. Active screen time is when your child learns and stimulates their mind, imagination, and creativity through educational content.

Child psychologists recommend: 

“Passive screen time should be avoided for toddlers and preschoolers because their brain is so fragile at this age. It can delay language development, limit vocabulary, contribute to behavior issues, and cause screen addiction.“

Not all screen time is created equal.

Watching high-quality educational videos with your toddler or preschooler is good screen time.

Sitting your kid down, turning on YouTube, and handing them the phone—not knowing what they are watching—is bad screen time.

In fact, it’s reallllllly bad!

Is passive screen time bad for toddlers?

Yes. 100% bad. The negative aspects of screen time all stem from kids having unregulated screen time. Too much passive screen time can be linked to the following:

  1. Sleep problems — The blue light emitted from screens can disrupt kids’ natural sleep rhythm, making it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep. (See study)
  2. Behavior and attention problems — Kids who spend too much time in front of screens are more likely to be overstimulated, leading to attention problems and may increase the risk for depression and anxiety. (See study)
  3. Social development problems — Kids who spend too much time on screens may have difficulty interacting with peers and forming relationships. (See study)
  4. Language development problems — One study found that toddlers who watched more videos said fewer words. (See study)

No parent wants their kids to have these types of problems.

Is active screen time good for toddlers?

Yes, and there’s plenty of research to support this.

High-quality, active, educational screen time:

  1. Accelerates language acquisition – (See study)
  2. Improves school readiness and cognitive development (See study)
  3. Increases attention and motivation (See study)
  4. Improve word knowledge and speaking (See study)

Every parent wants the best for their kids. Active screen time is beneficial for kids in moderation.

Educational App for Preschool

How much active screen time is appropriate for a toddler?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children under 18 months should not have screen time. (Source)

For children between 2 and 5, the AAP recommends limiting screen time to 1 hour per day. 

Screen time can be beneficial for kids if it’s used in moderation and with supervision. (Source)

Many educational apps and games can help kids learn new things. Just be sure to monitor your child’s screen time and limit it appropriately.

How to make sure your toddler’s screen time is active.

There are a few things you can do to make sure your toddler’s screen time is active:

  1. Only give your toddler educational content — Look for educational apps that stimulate your toddler’s mind. These should be age-appropriate and focus on numbers, letters, shapes, colors, etc. 
  2. Get them involved — Find apps that encourage offline reinforcement activities that you and your toddler can do together to match what they see on the screen. For example, if they’re watching a show about animals, see if they can find a toy animal in the room.
  3. Eliminate passive screen time — Avoid letting your toddler watch hours of mind-numbing entertainment shows or videos. Instead, opt for interactive content that will engage their minds.
  4. Set time limits — Limiting your toddler’s screen time daily is essential. A good rule of thumb is no more than one hour per day.  

By following these tips, you can ensure that your toddler’s screen time is active and beneficial for their development. 

Is screen time causing depression in kids?

There is growing concern that excessive screen time may adversely affect young people’s mental health.

One study found that:

Children who spent more than seven hours per day on screen-based activities were at a higher risk of depression and anxiety than those who spent less time in front of screens.

The researchers suggested that:

The constant stimulation of screens may overwhelm some children, leading to emotional and mental health problems.

Another study found that:

Children who spent more than two hours per day on screen-based activities were more likely to have attention problems and lower grades in school than those who spent less time on screens.

The researchers suggested that:

Excessive screen time may interfere with children’s ability to concentrate and learn effectively.

The research suggests that excessive screen time may contribute to depression and other mental health problems in children. However, more research is needed to fully understand the long-term effects of screen time on mental health. In the meantime, it is essential for parents to monitor their children’s screen time and ensure that it is not excessive.

The role of parents in monitoring screen time

As a parent, it’s crucial to be actively involved in your child’s screen time to ensure they are engaging with age-appropriate, educational content. By watching with your child, you can ask questions and discuss the content, helping them process and apply the information to their daily lives. This active participation can also help you better understand your child’s interests and learning style, allowing you to tailor their screen time experiences accordingly. For more information on the impact of screen time on behavior, check out this informative blog post on Screen Time and Behavior for Toddlers and Preschoolers.

Introducing screen time rules and routines

Establishing healthy screen time habits is essential for your child’s overall well-being. Create a daily schedule that includes designated screen time, ensuring it doesn’t interfere with essential activities such as mealtime, playtime, and sleep. Setting boundaries and consistent routines helps your child understand when and how they can engage with screens, fostering a sense of balance and control. Be sure to consider the potential impact of screen time on sleep by reviewing this post on Screen Time and Sleep for Toddlers and Preschoolers.

Alternatives to screen time

Encourage your child to engage in a variety of activities that promote learning, creativity, and social skills. Some alternatives to screen time include reading books, playing with toys, exploring nature, and participating in arts and crafts. By offering diverse experiences, you can help your child develop a well-rounded skill set and a healthy relationship with technology. To learn more about the effects of screen time on children and finding the right balance, check out this post on The Effects of Screen Time on Kids: How Much is Too Much?

Balancing screen time with physical activity

Physical activity is vital to your child’s development, helping them build strength, coordination, and endurance. Ensure your child has ample opportunities for active play throughout the day, and consider incorporating physical activity as part of screen time. For instance, opt for interactive games or shows that encourage movement and participation. This balance helps your child develop a healthy lifestyle and reduces the risk of excessive sedentary behavior.

Screen time and family time

Integrating screen time into family activities can foster bonding and shared experiences. Co-view educational content, participate in interactive games, or engage in creative projects inspired by what your child watches. Incorporating screen time into family time can help your child develop positive associations with technology and learning. You can find some entertaining and educational content options in this post about Toddler Shows: Entertaining and Educational.

Screen time guidelines for different age groups

As children grow, their developmental needs and screen time recommendations change. For example, children aged 6 and older may benefit from slightly more screen time, particularly if it’s focused on educational content or skill-building activities. Be sure to stay informed about age-appropriate screen time guidelines and adjust your child’s habits accordingly.

Signs of screen addiction and how to address it

Screen addiction can manifest itself in various ways, such as irritability when screens are taken away, neglecting other activities, or sneaking screen time. If you suspect your child may be developing a screen addiction, promptly addressing the issue is essential. Establish clear boundaries, engage in open conversations about screen time, and ensure they have ample opportunities for screen-free activities. For more insights on this topic, read this post on Signs Toddler Watches Too Much TV.

The impact of screen time on eye health

Excessive screen time for preschoolers can strain your child’s eyes, potentially leading to discomfort or vision problems. To minimize these risks, encourage regular breaks, adjust screen brightness, and maintain a comfortable viewing distance. Additionally, consult with an eye care professional to ensure your child’s eye health is in good condition.

The role of sleep in relation to screen time

Adequate sleep is essential for your child’s overall health and well-being. However, excessive screen time, particularly before bedtime, can interfere with their sleep quality. Establish a bedtime routine that includes a screen-free wind-down period, allowing your child to relax and prepare for a good night’s sleep. For more information on the relationship between screen time and sleep, refer to this post on Screen Time and Sleep for Toddlers and Preschoolers.

Choosing age-appropriate content

Selecting developmentally appropriate content for your child is crucial in ensuring they benefit from screen time. Look for content that aligns with their interests and learning needs, and consider consulting reputable sources for recommendations. As your child grows, their content preferences may change, so be prepared to adjust their screen time experiences accordingly.

Benefits of co-viewing and co-playing

Engaging in screen time activities alongside your child has numerous benefits, including fostering learning, communication, and bonding. Co-viewing allows you to discuss the content and provide guidance, while co-playing promotes shared experiences and teamwork. You can help your child develop a healthy relationship with technology and learning by participating in screen time together.

Implementing parental controls and monitoring tools

Utilize parental controls and monitoring tools to effectively regulate your child’s screen time. These tools can help you limit access to inappropriate content, set time limits, and monitor their online activities. By implementing these measures, you can create a safe and controlled screen time environment for your child.

The impact of screen time on social skills and emotional intelligence

Excessive screen time may hinder your child’s social development and emotional well-being. To counteract this, encourage your child to engage in social activities like playdates, group classes, or family outings. You can help your child develop essential social skills and emotional intelligence by providing opportunities for social interaction.

Screen time and academic performance

The relationship between screen time and academic achievement is complex, with both potential benefits and drawbacks. Educational content can support learning and skill development, while excessive or passive screen time may hinder focus and academic performance. Striking a balance is key to ensuring your child benefits from screen time without compromising their academic success.

Screen time during family outings and vacations

Managing screen time during family trips can be challenging, but it’s essential to prioritize shared experiences and exploration. Set screen time limits, encourage screen-free activities, and consider incorporating educational content related to your trip’s destination. By finding a balance, you can create memorable experiences for your child while still allowing for some screen time.

Addressing screen time in different settings

Managing screen time is essential in various environments, such as at school, during playdates, or while visiting family and friends. Communicate your expectations and guidelines with others involved in your child’s care and encourage consistency across different settings.

The impact of screen time on creativity and imagination

While some screen time can inspire creativity, excessive or passive screen time may hinder your child’s imaginative play. Encourage your child to engage in creative activities outside of screen time, such as drawing, painting, or storytelling. You can help your child develop their imagination and problem-solving skills by providing creative expression opportunities.

Dealing with screen time conflicts

Disagreements related to screen time limits and content choices are common among parents and children. To address these conflicts, establish clear boundaries, communicate openly about your expectations, and be willing to compromise when appropriate. By working together to find a solution, you can help your child develop a healthy relationship with screen time while respecting your family’s values and guidelines.

By incorporating these strategies and staying informed about the latest research and recommendations, you can create a balanced and effective approach to screen time for your child. For more information and guidance, explore additional resources such as Screen Time for Toddlers: What You Need to Know and consider consulting with professionals in child development, psychology, or education. Together, you can ensure your child benefits from screen time while maintaining a well-rounded and healthy lifestyle.

What is the best “active” learning app for toddlers? Kokotree!

learning app for toddlers smart screen time

What is Kokotree?

Kokotree is an educational app for kids that helps your child learn basic academic concepts like numbers, shapes, colors, the alphabet, and more.

Who is it for?

Kokotree for kids ages 1 to 5. It’s perfect for busy parents who want to give their toddler or preschooler a head start on their education.

How does it work?

Instead of passively watching cartoons, your child will be engaged in active, smart screen time—through educational videos that improve their cognitive development.

With Kokotree, your child will learn the following:

  • Listening skills and curiosity.
  • Imagination, creativity, and sense of humor.
  • Numbers, letters, and the alphabet.
  • Colors, counting, rhyming, and memory.
  • Days of the week, months of the year.
  • Sounds, emotions, patterns.
  • And more.

TLDR. Here are the important parts you need to know.

  • Screens are great at holding your child’s attention, but not all screen time is created equal.
  • There are two types of screen time: Passive and Active. Passive screen time is when your child watches cartoons with no educational value, purely entertainment-based content like turning on YouTube to “babysit” your child. Active screen time is when your child learns and stimulates their mind, imagination, and creativity through educational content.
  • Child psychologists recommend avoiding passive screen time for toddlers and preschoolers because their brain is so fragile at this age. It can delay language development, limit vocabulary, contribute to behavior issues, and cause screen addiction.
  • Too much passive screen time can be linked to sleep problems, behavior and attention problems, social development problems, and language development problems.
  • Active screen time is beneficial for kids in moderation, and it accelerates language acquisition, improves school readiness and cognitive development, increases attention and motivation, and improves word knowledge and speaking.
  • American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children under 18 months should not have screen time, and for children between 2 and 5, the AAP recommends limiting screen time to 1 hour per day.
  • You can ensure that their toddler’s screen time is active by giving them educational content, involving them in interactive activities to match what they see, and limiting their screen time.

In conclusion

Too much screen time, especially passive screen time, can negatively affect kids’ physical and mental health. Active screen time, such as educational apps, is beneficial for kids and should be limited to one hour per day.

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