Screen TimeJan 08, 2020

Screen Time Guidelines vs. Reality: How Much Time Are Kids Actually Spending With Screens?

Screen Time Guidelines vs. Reality: How Much Time Are Kids Actually Spending With Screens?

We compared screen time recommendations against average use for kids zero to eight—and the results are revealing!

Do you ever wonder how your kid’s tech use stacks up to the screen time recommendations? Or how you compare to the average? Screen time is an issue that often leaves parents at a loss. Googling it returns an overwhelming number of guidelines, articles, studies, opinions and how-tos. And to add to the confusion, many of these resources and experts disagree with each other.

If you feel torn, you’re definitely not alone. After reading the latest headlines, we’re often left with a vague sense that screen time is bad for our kids—but it’s still a part of our lives. We use technology to connect with loved ones, entertain ourselves and access worlds of information. We let our kids to sit with a phone or tablet, play on the computer or watch TV, and we wonder, “Is this okay? Are we normal?”

So, what are parents to do, especially when many see benefits from screen time with their kids? In an attempt to shed some light on the subject, we looked at screen time recommendations by age—and compared them to available data on how real kids use technology.

Guidelines vs. Reality

In 2016, American Academy of Pediatrics released new screen time guidelines. “Today’s children grow up immersed in digital media, which has both positive and negative effects on healthy development,” reads their press release. Their summarized recommendations by age are:

  • Children under 18 months: avoid screens other than video-chatting
  • Children 18–24 months: if parents want to introduce digital media, they should choose high-quality programming, and watch it with their children
  • Children 2–5 years: limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programs, and parents should watch media with children to help them get the most out of screen time
  • Children ages 6 and older: place consistent limits on total screen time, types of screen time, and ensure it doesn’t take the place of sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health

They also suggest that families set aside screen-free times and locations in the household, and recommend that parents talk to their kids about digital citizenship, safety and how to respect others online.

With all that said, you might be curious about how actual parents introduce screens to their kids in real life. And the gold standard for screen time stats is Common Sense Media. According to their 2017 census on media usage among children 0–8, kids under 2 have an average of 42 minutes of screen time per day, kids 2–4 have an average of 2 hours and 39 minutes of screen time per day, and kids 5–8 have an average of 2 hours and 56 minutes of screen time per day. Here’s the comparison below:

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And, on average, kids under 4 are getting 1 hour and 39 minutes more per day than recommended. (It’s also worth noting that only 20% of parents were even aware that these guidelines existed.)

Another interesting finding from the census is that parents have mixed feelings about screens: 76% agreed that in general, the less time kids spend with screen media the better off they are—and at the same time, 74% of parents agreed that their kids benefited from the screen media they used. In general, the parents surveyed were far more likely to say that screen media helped their kids than hurt their kids’ learning, creativity, social skills, and focus.

What does all this tell us? Kids on average are getting more than the recommended amount of screen time per day, and parents are ambivalent about the issue. Most agree that less screen time is better, but most also agree that their kid benefits from it. So if you’re a parent feeling good, bad and confused about screen time all at the same time, you’re not alone.

And they’re definitely here to stay. So, rather than focusing exclusively on time spent, it’s time to help parents find strategies for raising good digital citizens.