9 simple rules on screen time for kids

I remember having a cell phone while in high school. It was only for “just in case” while driving, and all it did was call — no texting, games, Facebook, or Twitter. When I went to college, I kept my cell phone in a dresser drawer in my dorm room. I didn’t need it, and there was no demand for me to carry it. Nobody did. Today, everyone has a cell phone. Most families have a television. Parents are buying their babies and toddlers tablets so that they can play “educational apps.” A Common Sense Media study in 2013 found that 38 percent of children under age 2 had used a mobile device for media (compared to 10 percent only two years prior). In the year 2015, I would imagine this figure is even higher. Kids are growing up digital. Portable digital devices always have and always will be for today’s child.

When I finished my pediatric residency in 2010, I was well aware of the AAP recommendation to avoid all screen time until at least 2 years of age. It’s hard to argue against the recommendation; it just seems a little bit difficult to follow. Still, I can’t help but cringe at how acceptable screens and screen time have become. To keep up with the changing times, the AAP has now decided to update its policy, due out in fall, 2016. Should we plan to totally ignore the old recommendations and just give in to screens, knowing eventually they will forever be a part of our child’s daily routine? No! Here are 9 simple rules to help you be smart about screen time for kids.

1. Play. Set reasonable time limits, and balance screen time with physical activity.

2. Talk. Keep screens off during meal times, and kick-start some good conversation.

3. Sleep. Keep screens out of the bedroom. Make “tech-free zones” in your home.

4. Parent. Don’t give a tablet to a toddler and expect it to babysit for you. Be involved.

5. Engage. Be an active participant in the media activity with your child. Ask your child what is going on in the app. Try to relate it to the real world.

6. Privilege. Remind your child that media use is not a right and can be taken away.

7. Model. Limit your own activities on a virtual device. Learn to “unplug.”

8. Avoid. Go media-free every once in a while. It might be the breath of fresh air your family needs.

9. Research. Use companies like Common Sense Media to research educational apps for your kids. Try apps out for yourself to see if the content truly is educational.

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About Dr. Justin Morgan, Bundoo Pediatrician

Justin Morgan, MD, FAAP, is a board-certified pediatrician who practices general pediatrics in Louisville, Kentucky. He cares for children of all ages.


  1. Love this! We use #6 in our home and screen time is earned daily as positive reinforcement for good behavior.


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