Parenting and Media: Our Screen Time Compromise


Screen Time and Toddlers

For the first few years of my childhood there were no screens in our apartment. Literally not a single screen. The telephone didn’t even have caller ID, and I’m a young mom, this wasn’t that long ago. Now I have my own child and everyone she interacts with has a screen in their pocket. It would be thoroughly and completely impossible to give her the same magical technology-free time that I enjoyed. The prevalence of screens has spread so drastically that I can’t even use my own childhood as a realistic reference point. And this stuff is so new how is it REALLY going to affect our children? Its been a struggle for my family to decide on (and enforce) our screen time guidelines. 

Negative Impacts

According to the policy statement issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics excessive screen-time is linked to increased BMI (body mass index), decreased sleep, and developmental delays. 


A study of two-year-olds found that BMI increased for every hour per week of media consumed, and this sets the stage for weight gain later in childhood. Also, watching TV while you eat means that you eat more because you are paying less attention to your satiety cues. Basically, you don’t realize you’re full because you are distracted, so you keep eating. This applies to young children too. 


Screen time and the presence of media devices in the bedroom is associated with fewer minutes of sleep per night. Even in infants. Screens emit a blue light that suppresses melatonin, making it physically more difficult for the brain to transition to sleep. 


When the television is on, even in the background, children have fewer quality interactions with their parents. Which leads to delays in cognitive, language, and social/emotional development. 

Experts Recommend 

  • No more than two hours a day of screen time
  • No screens in the hour before bed
  • Choose quality content 
  • Use media together as a family 

My Family’s Compromise 

In my perfect world, our daughter would frolic peacefully through magical forests completely devoid of screens. I think I’d have to move to another planet. Even if it were possible to make our home a completely screen-free environment, that would require a lot of self-restraint from us, and an impossible commitment from all the other adults we spend time with.

So these are the guidelines we came up with: 

  • No screens while the sun is up. Sometimes this contradicts that “no screens within the hour before bedtime” recommendation. But for us, we believe that spending time outdoors is a priority, daylight is precious. 
  • Absolutely no ads. Ever. Many European countries have actually banned advertisers from targeting young children. Commercials often use stereotypes to sell products, and I don’t want my daughter exposed to racial and gender stereotypes before she is old enough to have a conversation about why they are problematic. I don’t want any companies telling my child that little girls are supposed to act like this and play like that and own those toys. Additionally, with all the good stuff on Netflix and PBS being ad-free anyway, this isn’t too hard to enforce. 
  • No more than 30 minutes a day. With the exception of a family movie night or a sick day, we aim below the recommended 2 hour maximum. 
  • Joint media use. I’m bad at this one. Some nights my husband is at work and I just really want to shower. Alone. So I’ll pull up Netflix and let The Gruffalo babysit. If we’ve already watched it together (five million times) or especially if it’s based on a book we love I will let her watch something alone. 
  • Pre-view everything. We try not to let her watch anything that we haven’t already seen. 

Parents need guidelines too

Battling a stubborn child about their media use isn’t even the hard part. The hard part is setting guidelines for yourself and sticking to them. Children learn by example. If we want to show them how to have a healthy relationship with media, we have to limit our own screen time as well. There are some apps designed to help parents limit their child’s screen time. I recommend parents use them on themselves as well. Keeping the television on and using mobile devices distracts from parent-child interactions and play. Kids need screen time guidelines, but we also owe it to them to turn off our shows and put down our phones and lead by example.