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Screen time: How much is too much?

Written By: Simone Sonnier, UT Physicians | Updated: August 25, 2022
Child Playing on Tablet

Setting healthy boundaries on screen time with your little one can have both mental and physical health benefits.

Tablets, phones, gaming systems — all fun and entertaining products children typically have access to at home. However, the question many parents face is when to implement limits. Is an hour or two after dinner plenty? Are certain videos or games better than others?

Katie K. Tran, MD, pediatrician with UT Physicians, breaks down a few simple guidelines for families to follow based on different age groups.

Katie K. Tran, MD
Katie K. Tran, MD

24 months and younger

When children are this young, screen time is generally not recommended. Video chatting with relatives and friends remains the one exception to this rule.

“If parents still wish to introduce digital media to their baby, I suggest choosing high-quality programming and watching it together,” suggested Tran, assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston. “Solo media use in this age range should be avoided.”

2 to 5 years old

During this growth period, children are experiencing cognitive, language, and social development. While it is best to limit screen time to one hour per day, the type of programming, apps, or games being used matters. Interactive and educational content is best. Additionally, Tran offers these suggestions for parents:

  • Continue to practice co-watching.
  • Help children understand what they are seeing.
  • Apply any lessons learned in real life.

School-age children and adolescents

As children get older, restrictions on screen time can be loosened and appropriate media behaviors may be established based on individual households.

“Families can set boundaries with their child regarding the type of media and how much is consumed on a daily basis to establish healthy habits,” shared Tran. “Examples of boundaries can include avoiding devices during homework time, within one hour of bedtime, or during family meals.”

Encouraging media-free quality time and physical activity can help to curb hours of bingeing in front of a screen.

Negative side effects and how to avoid them

Negative side effects of too much screen time range from small pains (such as interrupted sleep) to major mental and physical health problems.

Becoming overly dependent on games, apps, or even TV shows can hinder emotional regulation, especially if it’s used as a means to alleviate temper tantrums. If the screen time is also combined with a lack of parent-child interaction and physical activity, there may be adverse consequences — poor executive function and obesity.

Tran recommends establishing a family media plan with the help of the American Academy of Pediatrics to ensure healthy boundaries are set as the school year kicks off. For additional assistance regarding your child’s well-being, consider setting up an appointment with one of our many pediatric experts.

As the clinical practice of McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston, UT Physicians has locations across the Greater Houston area to serve the community. To schedule an appointment, call 888-4UT-DOCS.