Screen Time Recommendations for Kids

Children and adolescents are surrounded by many technologies (e.g., television, video games, computers, internet, smartphones) and consequently, it may be unrealistic to assume they could avoid technology. Since technology is now infused in nearly all contexts (e.g., home, school, social networks), it’s important that parents understand the pros and the cons of various technologies and think carefully about their children’s and adolescents’ technology use. Some ideas to consider include:

Bedroom Technology
  • Mobile phones in the bedroom have been linked with
    • Sleep displacement (more time on phone → less sleep)
    • Melatonin suppression due to bright light from screens
    • Sleep disturbance due to content of messages (emotional and cognitive arousal)
    • Less parental supervision of phone activities and greater likelihood of age-inappropriate content
  • Television in the bedroom has been linked with
    • Sleep displacement (more time watching t.v. → less sleep)
    • Decreased physical activity
    • Increased likelihood of obesity
    • Increased likelihood of video game addiction
    • Less parental supervision of television content and greater likelihood of age-inappropriate content
  • Recommendation: no bedroom technology
Digital Reading vs. Traditional Paper Books

While most of the time spent reading with young children is done using traditional paper books, digital reading on computers, tablets, and e-readers is becoming more common among families.

  • Possible benefits of digital reading:
    • More engaging and motivating
    • Built in reading-aids (e.g., word pronunciation tools, dictionaries, narration)
    • Increased attention to details that aid comprehension
  • Possible downsides to digital reading:
    • Increased distractions from interactive features
    • Cognitive processing is lower when reading-aids are used
    • Decreased opportunity for parent-child interaction
  • Recommendation 1: Whether or not digital reading is beneficial for children depends on the children themselves, specifically their ability to regulate their attention, their ability to inhibit distraction, and their short-term memory capacity, so know your child’s capabilities and limitations when allowing them to engage in e-reading.
  • Recommendation 2: Consider using digital reading as a supplement to traditional paper books rather than a replacement.
Mobile Phones (Smartphones)

The impact of mobile phones on child and adolescent development exceeds the impact of other technologies due to two factors:

  • They can be personalized to satisfy individual’s physical, cognitive, social, and emotional needs at any given time.
  • They are multifunctional which means that they integrate other technologies (e.g., video games, television, internet) in addition to serving as a means of communication.

Research on the link between mobile phones and child/adolescent development is rapidly increasing at unprecedented rates. We currently know that the link between mobile phone use and development is complex and involves both positive and negative consequences.

  • Potential positive consequences of mobile phone use:
    • Enhanced connectivity to family and friends
    • Timely access to social support when facing challenges
    • Convenient option for medical intervention (e.g., managing diabetes through a health app that helps one monitor blood sugar levels
    • Capability for parents to monitor children’s and adolescents behaviors (e.g., classroom management apps that allow parents to monitor children’s school behaviors), locations, and mobile phone usage.
  • Potential negative consequences of mobile phone use:
    • For adolescents, an increased likelihood of distracted driving
    • Radiation exposure
    • Increased opportunity to experience bullying behaviors
    • Decreased opportunities for face-to-face interactions which allow children and adolescents to practice and develop important communication skills
    • Easy access to the internet and/or social media outlets which increases likelihood of exposure to age-inappropriate content
    • Frequent use can lead to compulsive behaviors such as constantly checking one’s phone, feeling the pressure to immediately respond to texts and calls
  • Recommendation 1: There is no magic age that marks a child’s readiness for a mobile phone. Rather, a parent needs to know their child’s capabilities and limitations in terms of impulse control, vulnerability to peer pressure, distractibility, etc. Parents should monitor children’s and adolescents’ mobile phone activity and enforce rules and limitations.
  • Recommendation 2: A child’s/adolescent’s phone use should not displace developmentally-important activities such as face-to-face interactions, cognitively enriching activities such as reading, time spent outside, physical activity, etc.

Recommended Resources:

Picture of Dr. Mary Beth Leibham

Dr. Mary Beth Leibham

Mary Beth Leibham, a professor of psychology at University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire, earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Loras College (Iowa), a master's degree in developmental psychology from Miami University (Ohio) and a Ph.D. in educational psychology from Indiana University. Her early research interests focused on children's cognitive development, particularly the family and home factors related to young girls’ emerging science interests and science academic motivation. More recently, her research has focused on academic motivation, perfectionism, self-compassion, growth vs. fixed mindsets, and overparenting. Mary Beth teaches courses in child psychology, adolescent development, educational psychology, and exceptional children. Despite her extensive formal training in child development, Mary Beth’s most significant, impactful, and humbling learning experiences have come from her own four children and husband.