Age-Appropriate Screen Time Limitations for Toddlers and Preschoolers
At this stage, you can start to introduce tech-time to your child, but it's important to stay in control of the situation.
When baby reaches the toddler stage, things can get a little tricky when it comes to limiting screen time access. If you haven’t noticed yet, you’re about to learn that your digital device is one of toddler’s favorite toys, if not her absolute favorite. Needless to say, it’s important to stay in control as a parent. At this point, you can now start to pick and choose ways to introduce toddler to the different functions of your digital device, but it’s best not to give her free reign.
Introducing meaningful tech-time
Before baby became a toddler, tech-time mostly consisted of the following:
- Baby grabbing at your digital device
- Baby demanding your digital device
- Baby screaming until she gets her way
- Baby Shark
- Occasional FaceTime chats with Grandma
- Baby throwing a fit when you take the digital device away
If actual tech-time with baby consisted of more than the occasional FaceTime chat and a video every once in a while, it might be hard to introduce meaningful tech-time as a toddler. However, if you stayed in control and encouraged baby’s development in other, more relevant ways, such as: motor skill development, social interactions, and lots of independent playtime, a tech-time introduction might be the logical next step.
If you decide to introduce tech-time to this specific age group, the following limits should apply:
- Try not to exceed 20 – 30 minutes at any given time
- Try not to exceed more than one hour per day
When baby was indeed a baby, you couldn’t effectively communicate to her why you were keeping her favorite “toy” off limits because she was too little to understand. But as baby grew into a toddler, she figured out how to yell when things didn’t go her way. As your patience grew thin, you started to relax to the rules on digital devices, which was fine in small doses as previously mentioned. Good thing you made it through those days because now you don’t have to keep screens away from her completely. In fact, now might be a good time to start finding more meaningful uses for tech-time, such as: learning, creating, and exploring along with the occasional Baby Shark video.
But don’t get too comfortable because there’s still a catch. In this wonderful time of toddlerhood, parents still should limit baby’s access to tech-time. I’m sure you’re just waiting to dive right into the thousands of games and apps designed for toddlers, but do your best to exercise caution. Toddler still needs real-time experiences to vastly overshadow tech-time experiences.
Games, apps and other stuff
At this point, there’s nothing wrong with picking out a few apps, videos or games to promote toddler’s development. This should obviously be done according to the discretion of each individual parent(s) as some may opt for more tech-time while others prefer little to no tech-time at all. As toddler approaches pre-school age, not only will she understand what she’s doing behind the screen, she may even start to become more tech-savvy than you. However, do your best to be mindful of the situation. Even if there’s tech-time involved with toddler’s development, she still wants and needs your undivided attention. Don’t underestimate toddler by assuming she can’t tell when you’re giving a half-hearted effort. In other words, try to stay engaged and don’t let the screens be your crutch. As toddler reaches pre-school age, she’ll be ready to spread her wings and fly because of the diverse efforts of her parent(s).
But what happens when you get to the app store, or the toy store, or you search for information online and you’re completely overwhelmed? How will you know what’s age-appropriate and what’s not? And are digital books really more effective than regular books? Will giving toddler an iPad really help her become the next Carla Harris? And what about those nasty stories of highly disturbing content finding it’s way onto the kids version of YouTube?
These questions seem to lead to more questions rather than answers, but it’s no excuse because every parent wants to protect their child. But how do we keep them away from the bad stuff? As a parent, you’re going to have to become part of the answer. First off, you’ll want to check the age and safety ratings for anything you find at the app store, online or at any physical store. Keep in mind, app store ratings aren’t the same as actual age and/or safety ratings. That said, several helpful organizations continue to properly research this particular issue and have come up with relevant age rating systems and more information designed for the safety of your family.
Some of these organizations include:
- Screens and Kids
- Family Online Safety Institute
- International Age Rating Coalition
- American Academy of Pediatrics
- Joan Ganz Cooney Center
- Common Sense Media
- Project Lead The Way
- Children’s Technology Review
Furthermore, if toddler is your first child, it’s probably been a while since you’ve watched Sesame Street. That being said, you might want to review your own viewing habits and adjust accordingly. It’s also a good idea to pre-screen the material that crosses the eyes of your child. As noted before, app store ratings don’t always paint an accurate picture and you never can really trust the internet. However, you can start to trust an internet with correct parental controls in place.
Establishing tech-free boundaries
So we discussed the transition into meaningful tech-time and tech related ideas to promote toddler’s development, but what about establishing boundaries? As toddler turns into pre-schooler, she’s reaching the point where she can communicate her desires, and she’ll most likely want to spend more time with screens than she should, but as mentioned before parent(s) should stand their ground and set boundaries.
When boundaries are set, a goal should also be set for those boundaries. Your goal for setting toddler’s tech boundaries might be for her to develop a healthy relationship with screens (whatever that may be). Being that she’s still largely exploring the world around her, she obviously doesn’t understand the harm in always getting what she wants. That said, if no boundaries are set and toddler’s tech access goes unchecked, you can probably throw your goals out the window. You’ll have to be stern because toddler will push back, but setting boundaries and sticking to them is much better than letting the situation spiral out of control.
Firm rules should be established as to when and where toddler, and other family members, should and should not use digital devices. One of these times should be closer to bedtime to preserve eye health and to get better rest in general. Moreover, certain rooms in the house should be designated as “tech-free zones.” One of these zones should obviously be the dining room or the dinner table to be more precise.
When boundaries are set and rules get put into place, it’s important that everybody follows them, not just toddler (or children in general). Even at this early stage, children start to develop a sense of justice. If parent(s) aren’t following the rules, why should the children? That said, boundaries should be reasonable and flexible. They should come with built-in tech breaks that the whole family can benefit from. If done correctly, pre-schooler’s relationship with tech should flourish. Furthermore, it should allow for more time to be spent on other aspects of development in order for toddler to become more well-rounded into her pre-school years.