TV, interactive video games, and the Internet can be excellent sources of education and entertainment for kids. But too much screen time can have unhealthy side effects.

That's why it's wise to monitor and limit the time your kids spend playing video games, watching TV, and using the Internet.

What's Recommended?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued these guidelines for screen time:

  • Babies and toddlers up to 18 months old: No screen time, with the exception of video-chatting with family and friends.
  • Toddlers 18 months to 24 months: Some screen time with a parent or caregiver. 
  • Preschoolers: No more than 1 hour a day of educational programming, together with a parent or other caregiver who can help them understand what they're seeing.
  • Kids and teens 5 to 18 years: Parents should place consistent limits on screen time, which includes TV, social media, and video games. Media should not take the place of getting enough sleep and being physically active.

Kids should have a wide variety of free-time activities, like spending time with friends and playing sports, which can help develop a healthy body and mind.

Screen Time

Here are some practical ways to make kids' screen time more productive:

  • Stock any rooms that have a TV, computer, or other devices with plenty of other non-screen entertainment (books, kids' magazines, toys, puzzles, board games, etc.) to encourage kids to do something non-screen related.
  • Keep TVs, iPads, and other screens out of kids' bedrooms.
  • Turn off all screens during meals.
  • Don't allow your child to watch TV while doing homework.
  • Treat screen time as a privilege that kids need to earn, not a right that they're entitled to. Tell them that screen time is allowed only after chores and homework are completed.
  • Try a weekday ban. Schoolwork, sports activities, and job responsibilities make it tough to find extra family time during the week. Record shows or save video games for weekends, and you'll have more family togetherness time to spend on meals, games, and physical activity during the week.
  • Set a good example. Limit your own screen time.
  • Check the TV listings and program reviews. Look for programs your family can watch together (like developmentally appropriate and nonviolent programs that reinforce your family's values). Choose shows that foster interest and learning in hobbies and education (reading, science, etc.).
  • Preview programs. Make sure you think they're appropriate before your kids watch them.
  • Use the ratings. Age-group rating tools have been developed for some TV programs and usually appear in newspaper TV listings and onscreen during the first 15 seconds of some TV programs.
  • Use screening tools. Many new standard TV sets have internal V-chips (V stands for violence) that let you block TV programs and movies you don't want your kids to see.
  • Come up with a family TV schedule. Make it something the entire family agrees on. Then post the schedule in a visible household area (like on the refrigerator) so that everyone knows which programs are OK to watch and when. And make sure to turn off the TV when the "scheduled" program is over instead of channel surfing for something else to watch.
  • Watch TV and play video games with your child, to see if the programming is OK for your child.
  • Find out about other TV policies. Talk to other parents, your doctor, and your child's teachers about their TV-watching policies and kid-friendly programs they'd recommend.
  • Offer fun alternatives to screen time. If you want your child to turn off the screen, suggest alternatives like playing a board game, starting a game of hide and seek, or playing outside.

Talking Is Important

Talk to kids about what they see on screens, and share your own beliefs and values. If something you don't approve of appears on the screen, turn off the screen and use the opportunity to talk with your child.

Here are some suggestions:

  • "Do you think it was OK when those men got in that fight? What else could they have done? What would you have done?"
  • "What do you think about how those people were acting at that party? Do you think what they were doing was wrong?"
  • If certain people or characters are mistreated or discriminated against, talk about why it's important to treat everyone fairly despite their differences.
  • You can use programs and games to explain confusing situations and express your feelings about difficult topics (sex, love, drugs, alcohol, smoking, work, behavior, family life). Teach your kids to question and learn from what they see on screens.

Video and Interactive Computer Games

  • Look at the ratings. Video games do have ratings to indicate when they have violence, strong language, mature sexual themes, and other content that may be inappropriate for kids. The ratings, established for the Entertainment Software Rating Board, range from EC (meaning Early Childhood), which indicates that the game is appropriate for kids ages 3 and older, to AO (for Adults Only), which indicates that violent or graphic sexual content makes it appropriate only for adults.
  • Preview the games. Even with the ratings, it's still important to preview the games — or even play them — before letting kids play. The game's rating may not match what you feel is appropriate for your child.
  • Help kids get perspective on the games. Monitor how the games are affecting your kids. If they seem more aggressive after spending time playing a certain game, discuss the game and help them understand how the violence that's portrayed is different from what occurs in the real world. That can help them identify less with the aggressive characters and reduce the negative effects that violent video games can have.

Internet Safety

  • Become computer literate. Learn how to block objectionable material.
  • Keep the computer in a common area. Keep it where you can watch and monitor your kids. Avoid putting a computer in a child's bedroom.
  • Share an email account with younger children. That way, you can monitor who is sending them messages.
  • Teach your child about Internet safety. Discuss rules for your kids to follow while they're using the Internet, such as never revealing personal information, including address, phone number, or school name or location.
  • Bookmark your child's favorite sites. Your child will have easy access and be less likely to make a typo that could lead to inappropriate content.
  • Spend time online together. Teach your kids appropriate online behavior.
  • Monitor kids use of chat rooms. Make your kids aware that posting messages to chat rooms reveals a child's email address to others.
  • Find out about online protection elsewhere. Find out about the online protection offered at school, after-school centers, friends' homes, or anyplace where kids could use a computer without your supervision.
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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor. © 1995-2019 KidsHealth®. All rights reserved. Images provided by The Nemours Foundation, iStock, Getty Images, Veer, Shutterstock, and Clipart.com.

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