Updated on  February 21, 2024
6 min read

What Are the Recommended Screen Time Limits for Different Ages?

10 sources cited
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Setting guidelines for a child’s screen time at different ages can be challenging. With so much content readily available on today’s digital devices, it’s easy for kids to fall into the trap of improper and excessive usage. 

As responsible parents or guardians, you must ensure children engage in appropriate activities on their screens. Likewise, you should also know how to limit the time spent looking at them. 

This blog post explores the recommended screen time limits for different age groups. It also provides tips on creating reasonable parental controls that keep your child safe online while helping them form healthy habits regarding technology usage.

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Screen Time Recommendations by Age

Here are the guidelines for screen time usage by age, according to the World Health Organization, American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry:1,2

  • 0-18 months: Zero screen time except for video chatting
  • 18-24 months: Zero screen time except for video chatting
  • 2 to 5 years: Less than an hour on weekdays and 3 hours on weekends on high-quality programming or digital media (less time preferred)
  • 5 to 8 years: Less than 2 hours daily with a limit on high-quality programming or digital media
  • 8 to 12 years: Less than 2 hours daily with a limit on high-quality programming or digital media
  • Teenagers: Parents and children establish limitations and guidelines

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0 to 18 Months

Average Screen Time

Despite professional advice, kids under two watch screens for an average of 42 minutes daily. It contradicts the AAP and the Canadian Pediatric Society (CPS), which advises babies to have little to no screen exposure.3

Recommended Screen Time

For children between 0 and 18 months, the AAP recommends no screen time other than video chatting with family and friends. This includes television, DVDs, streaming videos, and other digital media.

Health Effects

Excessive or inappropriate use of digital media can negatively affect the health and development of babies and young children. This includes the following problems that manifest later in life in elementary school:4,5

  • Delayed language development
  • Decreased social skills
  • Shortened attention span
  • Aggression 
  • Attention problems
  • Difficulty regulating emotions and behavior

For optimum brain development, infants require quality interactions with their environment. Overindulging babies in screen time can hinder real-world engagements vital to their growth.

18 to 24 Months

Average Screen Time

As mentioned, children under two years old spend an average of 42 minutes per day watching screens. This behavior contradicts guidelines from AAP and CPS, which advise that young children should have minimal screen exposure.3

Recommended Screen Time

For optimal child development, it’s recommended that infants between 18 to 24 months avoid using phones or tablets independently. However, if you introduce digital media, it’s crucial to balance their screen time and the content they view. Limit toddler screen time to educational content viewed alongside a caregiver, as Common Sense Media advises.

Health Effects

Infants struggle to comprehend speech on screens without adult supervision until age 2. This is why they learn more from real-life experiences than screens and are less likely to retain information from screens.

However, watching the appropriate content and how you introduce digital media can help toddlers — although more study is needed to confirm this. 

On the other hand, unsupervised screen time, inappropriate content, and background viewing can impede toddlers’:6

  • School readiness
  • Interactions with parents
  • Executive functions
  • Language development
  • Attention capacities

2 to 5 Years

Average Screen Time

Children between the ages of two and four spend an average of two hours and 39 minutes in front of screens, exceeding the recommended limit of one hour set by both the AAP and CPS.

Recommended Screen Time

Children between 2 and 5 are encouraged to limit their screen time to less than an hour on weekdays and 3 hours on weekends. High-quality content is recommended (like Sesame Street), but even less time in front of screens is ideal.

Health Effects

Excessive screen time for children aged 2 to 5 can create numerous health concerns, such as:7

  • Lack of sleep due to blue light
  • Weight issues
  • Social difficulties
  • Language development delays
  • Decreased learning abilities
  • Altered mindsets

5 to 8 Years

Average Screen Time

The average screen time for children ages five to eight is almost three hours daily. However, some of this time might include using both a TV and an iPad simultaneously. Nevertheless, experts find the figure alarming.3

Recommended Screen Time

Experts recommend that children aged 5 to 8 limit their screen time to less than 2 hours per day. They also advise choosing high-quality educational content, but an even better approach would be to limit their time in front of screens altogether.

Health Effects

Similar to the health effects on those aged 2 to 5, too much screen time for this age group can lead to:7

  • Weight issues
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Social difficulties
  • Language development delays
  • Decreased learning abilities
  • Altered mindsets

8 to 12 Years

Average Screen Time

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), children aged 8 to 10 spend an average of six hours daily on screens. Meanwhile, those aged 11 to 14 spend an average of nine hours daily.9

Recommended Screen Time

For this age group, experts still recommend less than 2 hours of screen time daily. That time, ideally, includes the time they spend on their computers and iPads in school, so unsupervised time should be even less.

Health Effects

Too much screen time in preteens can result in oppositional defiant disorder and conduct disorder, which are behavior disorders. According to a recent study, playing video games or watching YouTube videos is also associated with developing obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) in this age group.8

Teenagers

Average Screen Time

The CDC reports that the average daily screen time is 9 hours for the age group 11 to 14 years and 7.5 hours for the age group 15 to 18 years.9

Recommended Screen Time

Since teenagers tend to be more independent and have access to screens in school, the AAP recommends that parents and teens develop a plan to limit the use of screens.

Health Effects

Teenagers who spend excessive amounts of time on social media tend to:8

  • Report feeling increasingly isolated from others
  • Be at higher risk of developing body dissatisfaction and eating disorders because of constant comparisons to unattainable body ideals
  • Experience mindless overeating due to binge-watching television shows
  • Feel unworthiness and guilt
  • Gain weight leading to obesity

Tips for Reducing Screen Time Around the House

Limiting screen time in the home can be challenging, especially since screens are so ingrained in today’s lifestyle. Nonetheless, here are some tips to make it easier:

  1. Set screen-free times. Have specific hours when screens are not allowed to be used
  2. Designate a “tech-free” area. This could be the bedroom, living room, or kitchen
  3. Introduce other activities. Encourage children to engage in activities that don’t involve screens
  4. Establish how much screen time is allowed daily or weekly. Decide how much time your children can use their screens and stick to those limits
  5. Lead by example. Show your children the importance of limiting screen usage by reducing your own screen time
  6. Have an open dialogue. Talk to your children about the effects of using too many screens and why limiting their time with them is important
  7. Follow the 20-20-2 rule. Make sure to take a break from screens every 20 minutes for at least 20 seconds and limit screen time to 2 hours per day

Overall, while the effects of too much screen time may be alarming, it’s possible to reduce the amount of time that your children spend on screens.

By setting limits, encouraging non-screen activities, and leading by example, you can help your children stay safe and healthy.

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Updated on  February 21, 2024
10 sources cited
Updated on  February 21, 2024
  1. New WHO guidance: Very limited daily screen time recommended for children under 5.” American Optometric Association, 2019.
  2. Screen Time and Children.” American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 2020.
  3. Gagne, C. “This is the average screen time for kids. How do your kids measure up?” Today’s Parent, 2021.
  4. United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund. “Babies need humans, not screens. UNICEF Parenting, n.d. 
  5. Fliesler, N. “Screen Time Caution for Babies.” Boston Children’s Hospital, 2023.
  6. Guellai, B. “Effects of screen exposure on young children’s cognitive development: A Review.” Frontiers in Psychology, 2022.
  7. Is my toddler having too much screen time?” Active SG Circle, n.d. 
  8. Berthold, J. “Is Too Much Screen Time Bad for Kids? It’s Complicated.” University of California San Francisco, 2022.
  9. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. “Screen Time vs. Lean Time Infographic.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2018.
  10. How Much Screen Time Is OK for My Kids?” Common Sense Media, 2022.
The information provided on VisionCenter.org should not be used in place of actual information provided by a doctor or a specialist.