Lessons on Screen Time from Early Intervention

Written by Alison Berning, Speech Therapist

Edited by Amy Kerrigan, Communications Specialist

According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), children of all ages spend a lot of time watching screens, including smartphones, tablets, gaming consoles, TVs, and computers. On average, children ages 8-12 in the United States spend 4-6 hours per day watching screens. Teens spend up to 9 hours. While screens can entertain, teach, and keep children occupied, too much use may lead to problems.

Most people are unaware that infants and toddlers cannot learn from screens. Young brains do not make a connection between 2D and 3D until age 4. Meaning that infants and toddlers are unable to see something on a screen and transfer it to real-life situations. Yes, this even includes screen time with Miss Rachel!

The debate over how much screen time kids should get each day – if any at all – has been raging for years. A new report by the World Health Organization (WHO) has come down hard on the issue. WHO strongly advises that children under 1 year old should not have inactive screen time at all. Children younger than 5 years should be limited to one hour (or less) per day.

Several issues have been linked to moderate screen time before the age of 3. These issues include motor delays, attention issues, hyperactivity, less creative play, noncompliance, lower developmental scores on tests, and many others… Families can reduce risk to their children by following a few guidelines.

Guidelines for Screen Time

  • 0-18 months: Limit screen use to video chatting with an adult (for example, a parent who is out of town).
  • 18-24 months: Limit screen time to educational programming with a caregiver.
  • 2-5 years: Limit non-educational screen time to 1 hour per weekday and 3 hours on weekend days.
  • 6 years and older: Limit activities that include screens and encourage healthy habits (movement and creativity).

What CAN You Do to Enrich Your Child’s Development?


Interacting with toys and other household items helps your child’s development more than anything they watch on a screen. Children need to physically handle toys. Pouring, stacking, sorting, pretending, and placing items in and out of containers are all ways that children learn. Children also learn by interacting with others, both peers and adults. Relationships are built through songs, finger plays, and fun games with physical movement. These activities will help children thrive in today’s technology-filled world.

We must also understand that screens are here to stay. While screens can offer many positives, it can be challenging for families to manage screen time. That is why Early Intervention suggests creating a Screen Time Plan. It’s never too early or too late to develop a Screen Time Plan with your family. Screen Time Plans can be made for any age!

Tips for Creating a Screen Time Plan

Familiarize yourself with programming: Make sure shows are age appropriate. Be aware of advertising and how it influences choices. Watch programs ahead of time so you can talk to your child about what they are seeing. Point out good behavior, such as cooperation, friendship, and concern for others. Make connections to meaningful events or places of interest. Find programming that is interactive. Use screens in ways that build creativity and connection with family and friends. Also, remember to consider your child or teen’s maturity and habits. The right programming for one family may not be a good fit for another.

Set a good example: Teach children about online privacy and safety. Actively decide when your child is ready for a personal device. Learn about parental controls and use them. Above all, SET A GOOD EXAMPLE by following the same rules and practicing your own safe and healthy screen habits.

Include plans for off-screen time: Outline times when screens should be off. Turn off all screens during family meals and outings. Avoid using screens as pacifiers (to stop tantrums) or as a babysitter. Remove screens from bedrooms and turn off all screens 30-60 minutes before bedtime. Also, when screens are off, encourage children to learn other activities such as sports, music, art, and hobbies.

Most importantly, let children participate in the plan! Let your children share their ideas and concerns if they are old enough. Children can actually enjoy following a plan when they have ownership in making the plan.


While screen time should be not at all or VERY limited for infants, remember this – Positive and healthy screen use IS POSSIBLE for children over age 2 with proper guidance and consistency.