Should you be worried about your screen time? What about your children’s screen time?

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Publication Date
March 18, 2020

Nigel Vann, blog author

I spend a lot of time each day looking at screens. I tell myself this is OK, much of the time is spent doing work, writing or responding to emails, reading books or newspapers online, and watching “quality tv” or “essential sports.” After all, I’m just keeping myself informed and entertained.  If I’m honest though, I do worry about the amount of time I spend with these various screens. My guess is I’m not alone in this concern. And I’m sure many parents worry about what’s best for their children.

Luckily, although still relatively new, there is a growing body of research on this issue--and the NRFC has been looking into this. We provided a webinar with experts in the field last September and have just posted a new Information Brief.

Here’s a quick look at some things we’ve learned, plus a sample of tips from our new brief and links to helpful resources for more in-depth information.

Excessive screen time, particularly passive viewing of television, may interfere with children’s healthy development by reducing their physical activity, social interaction, sleeping, and other essential activities

  • The American Academy of Pediatricians recommends that screen time be limited to one hour a day for children aged 2 to 5.

How children engage with screens is more important than the amount of screen time

  • Active screen time is better than passive screen time.
  • Young children are more likely to benefit if their parents are engaged with them during screen time and if the content is designed to encourage age-appropriate learning.

Getting a good night’s sleep is crucial for the mental and physical health of all children

  • Only half of U.S. children aged 8–11 years get the recommended amount of sleep for their age (9–12 hours a night).
  • All screens (including phones and tablets) emit blue light, which can cause disruptive sleep if children are exposed to it before sleeping.

Having the television on in the background when children are playing, even when no one is watching, can have detrimental effects for children

  • A recent survey found that children under three years old are exposed to background television for an average of 5.5 hours a day.
  • If parents are watching an adult program, studies have shown that they talk and respond much less to their children.

Parents’ use of mobile devices may impact their ability to parent effectively

  • More than one-third of teens feel that their parents spend too much time on mobile devices and get distracted by their phone during in-person conversations.
  • Studies have shown a connection between parental use of mobile devices and children “acting out” to get their parents’ attention.

Tips for dads

  • Steer your children toward screen time activities that actively engage them.
  • Be aware of your own screen time and screen use in front of your children.
  • Take screens out of the bedroom--reading a story, cuddling, and singing songs can better prepare children for a good night’s sleep.
  • Spend time doing other non-screen activities with your children–go out and play catch, take a walk together.
  • Use smartphone settings to get weekly screen time reports, set up parental locks, turn on safe browsing options, and avoid the blue light that interferes with sleep.
  • If you and your child’s mother live in separate homes, try to work together and agree on a family media plan for both households.
    • If that is not possible, remember kids are adaptable; they can usually accept that there are different rules and expectations in “mom’s house” and “dad’s house.” No matter what, focus on clear guidelines for your own home.

Helpful Resources


For more information, go to where you will find the new Information Brief (including a list of all research cited in this blog), a recording of the September 2019 webinar, and many other useful resources.