Last updated January 7th, 2021
As the year 2020 is almost ending, parents everywhere are overwhelmed and confused as to the mental health of their families. This year has been exceptional and we were all asked to adapt to that new normal we can’t seem to accept. As a freelancer working mom, my days pre-pandemic were organized perfectly for me to be able to meet my deadlines while my daughter was at nursery, interacting with kids, singing, playing and learning new things every day. Screen time was not a major worry for me as I had time to dedicate to her in the afternoons after we had both had our work and nursery time.
Then, quarantine happened and parents everywhere were asked to do all of their jobs simultaneously, from home. Their kids were here, asking what was happening and crying to go out and play, while call after call came throughout the day. Slowly, screen time became necessary for me as I had to get things done and get myself some headspace. I’m sure every mom out there can relate as the guilt of allowing our kid’s screen time grows bigger by the day. If you’re one of those moms (or dads), you’ve come to the right place. How much screen time should your two-year-old actually have? Let’s find out together!
First, it is important to discern good from bad screen time. Starting two years old, it is recommended that toddlers get a maximum of 1 hour of screen time per day, with less being better. As screen time is thought to generally be bad, when abused and used in the wrong way, there are ways to optimize it and strategies to decrease it at home but also outside the home. While lots of screen time for two year-olds can have negative effects on their behavior, their quality of sleep, their activity levels, their social skills as well as language and cognitive development, it can also be used wisely and taken as an opportunity to learn together. When screen time seems like the only way for parents to get things done, toddlers can be trained to play alone more and occupy themselves differently. By adopting certain strategies (which we will talk about in this article), you can limit screen time to a healthy timeline and make sure you get ahead in work and house chores at the same time.
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So, how much screen time is okay for a 2-year-old?
During the last few months, I often looked at my daughter while she was watching something on her tablet or on TV (something adequate for her age and development, of course) and wondered what is a healthy screen time per day. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children are getting an average of 7 hours of screen time per day (divided between TV, tablets, phones, and other devices).
This is definitely unhealthy and can lead to many negative effects in the long term. Taking into consideration that two-year-olds are more likely to remember information from a live presentation than from a screen, it is not necessary for them to spend that much time on it.
Excessive screen time can lead to a sedentary lifestyle and delays in development, damaging the potential a child has to do great things. According to the World Health Organization, it is important for two-year-olds to have sedentary screen time limited to no more than 1 hour a day and have 11 to 14 hours of good quality sleep, including naps.
Storytelling time with loving caregivers is encouraged instead when having sedentary time. The American Academy of Pediatrics adds to that recommendation that the 1 hour of screen time is for high-quality programming.
It is important to view screen time as “good” or “bad”. If you and your toddler are watching an interactive show with colors, shapes and songs, and high-quality educational material, this is considered good and useful screen time.
Whereas seating your toddler next to you while you watch your own shows, as well as screens during mealtime and bedtime, is considered bad screen time of course.
Screen time can be a good tool for teaching your toddler new things and explaining to them their meanings.
Is screen time bad for toddlers?
Parents are often concerned that screen time might affect their kids’ behavior and have negative effects on their health.
While moderately and wisely-used screen time can have benefits and resources, here are some ways it can impact children negatively:
- It can impact their quality of sleep. Too much screen time during the day and especially close to bedtime can be part of the reason toddlers wake up at least once a night.
- Too much screen time has often been linked to obesity while growing up as it encourages sedentary behavior.
- Poor quality screen time can have negative effects on behavior as it sometimes promotes unhealthy habits and even violence.
- Screen time makes you and your toddler forget playtime. He, therefore, misses out on discovering new things and developing his creativity.
- It can impact your toddler’s social skills and their interaction with people as they do not learn to connect and interact face to face with others.
- Some studies have found that watching too much TV or tablet at two years old can impact language development if not used wisely.
- Screen time used to calm a toddler from a meltdown or any emotional discomfort can lead to them growing up not knowing how to deal with their emotions and not be able to soothe themselves by finding their own coping mechanisms.
- Children who spend lots of time on a screen tend to become lazy and ignore their needs. For example, you notice they forget when they’re thirsty or hungry.
How do I get my two year-old to reduce screen time?
If there is someone who really gets how important screen time is for parents, it’s me. It sometimes seems like the only way to get a bit of uninterrupted time to focus on important tasks.
But with time, I learned that screen time is actually not the only way. While I’m not against my daughter watching educational shows and things that are appropriate for her age that could help her learn about life and healthy habits, I can’t keep her on the screen for longer than an hour a day.
Two-year-olds barely sit down anyway. So how can you develop screen time rules and have the perfect strategy for you to limit and manage screen time at home and outside?
- Start by having specific rules when it comes to the times of day when screen time is allowed. It will be less sporadic to everyone and you can fill the time gaps with other more creative and stimulating activities.
- Encourage independent toddler play. Start by allocating some time to undivided attention play with your toddler. Once you see they are comfortable continuing alone, go on to your tasks and check on them often. When they require your attention, pause what you’re doing and give it to them! This will help them feel secure and continue playing alone after a few minutes. Little by little, your toddler will get used to playing alone and you’ll be able to carry on with your tasks without relying on a screen to babysit.
- Never leave the TV on in the background. This also counts as screen time as it stimulates your toddler’s brain.
- Dedicate only one space in the house for screens. If there are no TVs or tablets lying around the bedroom, children will forget about them and only associate that specific space with screen time.
- Make sure you are the only one who can choose and download the content your toddler will be watching. Educational content that reinforces learning should be on the top of your list and the only thing your two-year-old has access to.
- Be your toddler’s role model. Try to limit phone use during meals or during play for your child not to think it is normal behavior.
- Make sure people who babysit (babysitters or even family members and friends) also know about screen time rules and limits.
- Always have fun alternatives and boxes of toys, arts, and crafts at home. Children love playing after all!
FAQs – Other screen time questions
Can I make exceptions for more screen time?
There are times when it is inevitable. Sometimes your toddler is just tired, you are overwhelmed with your to-do list or you are on a very long flight. Traveling for example is different as your toddler will have to sit still for a long time and no amount of playdough can help you do that. It is okay to pack a tablet with their favorite show on it to watch during those long flights.
Is it okay to video chat with relatives?
We all need to connect with our loved ones. With most of them living far away and with lockdowns being enforced frequently all over the world, video chatting has become a comfort. Video chatting is more interactive and can help create bonds with loved ones who are far. While the AAP’s advice is to limit screen time, it makes an exception for video chats.
How do I ensure quality screen time?
- Eliminate ads on the content your child will be watching, as most of the time it is inappropriate for their age.
- Research programs that would benefit their age. Choose shows that can promote healthy habits and behavior and teach them how to cope with everyday life. You would be amazed how kids can pick up on habits and apply them by themselves.
- Stay close to your child while he is watching so that you can supervise it and try to ask them questions and discuss the show from time to time.
- Use apps or websites appropriate for kids and use parental controls to block inappropriate content.
- Try to find interactive games that would make them think rather than just stare.
Parents nowadays have it tough. Being constantly bombarded with information about how to parent, not to mention being pressured to excel in all parts of life, including building a career while raising physically and mentally healthy kids, leaves us exhausted. Enters a pandemic, screen time has been a savior for many.
While it should be limited, it can still be used. Screen time that is properly controlled and effectively used can be a huge help during those tough times. We just need to use it wisely and make sure our kids still get their much-needed playtime and exercise.