Screen Time for Toddlers | How Much Is Too Much?

Greetings! Can we talk candidly about exactly how much screen time children should be getting? By “children” I mean, specifically toddlers. As I searched my photos for some graphics to go along with this post, I noticed something quite alarming. The iPad made it’s appearance very early in my daughter’s life. As early as 6 months! I now know that that is way too early. If you have been following me on social media for a while I’m sure you’ve heard the iPad playing in the background of a Snapchat, or have seen it in an Instagram post. I’m dealing with a fair amount of shame as I write this, but for the sake of honesty and transparency I have to tell you the truth. Why would I introduce a phone or an iPad to my 6 month old daughter? Let me explain.

This started very innocently. I remember the day I first used my phone with Nevaeh. She was fussy and it crossed my mind that music would be soothing to her. Then I thought, why not go one step further and use nursery rhymes and songs about the alphabet? It’s never too early to be exposed to the ABCs, right? Of course, there are no nursery rhymes in my iTunes library so I turned to YouTube. Yes! There is no shortage of educational videos on YouTube. Enter Bob The Train. I tried other videos, but settled on Bob The Train because the moment she heard the songs from these videos she was hooked. This was the start of a months long love affair with Bob The Train, much to my family’s dismay. A few months in and we had had our fill of the repetitive songs. Nevaeh enjoyed every minute I let her watch the iPad and she was content to sit still and watch it for long stretches of time. Too much time. It never occurred to me that that much screen time at her age could be detrimental to her development. Technology has become such an integral part of daily life that I convinced myself she was learning. In fact, I was so confident I was doing the right thing that I was actually shocked to hear what her doctor had to say when he saw me putting away the iPad as he entered the room for her check up.

He very casually mentioned the iPad and I had no problem admitting that I let her watch it. His silent nod compelled me to ask, “How much time should she have with the iPad?” His answer was, “Ideally at this age, none.” What!? None? I had no words. He proceeded to tell me that babies don’t learn from watching videos on a phone or tablet, even if they are educational. He said that babies learn by interacting with the people around them. Fine. Nevaeh gets plenty of human interaction at home. She just gets a lot of screen time in addition to that interaction. I just nodded my agreement and let him get on with her check up. It took all of my will power not to whip out my phone and Google screen time for babies. It would have to wait until I got home. Now I am one of those moms that follow doctors orders to the letter. I’m not sure if that’s an age thing, or a first time mom thing. Whatever the reason, I did not let Nevaeh watch the iPad for the rest of the day. I wish I could tell you that I was a perfect mom and she has not touched the iPad or any other device since then, but that would be a flat out lie. I did Google screen time for babies. Like most things, I was sure I could find one article in favor of and one against screen time. I was wrong. The experts agree. Until your toddler is 18 months, zero screen time is the way to go. The daycare Nevaeh goes to uses tablets as a learning tool, but only on the older kids. There is no tablet use for toddlers. Then, as if someone knew I was riding the fence on this issue, there was a news report that said your child’s brain literally gets smaller if they have just 2 hours of screen time per day! Ok! I get it! No screen time is the recommendation, but how? How, in the land of TVs, smart phones, tablets, and computers, do I completely avoid my child having any type of screen time? There has to be some kind of happy medium.

You can find “experts” who give concessions to the times we live in. One such expert says if you’re going to let your toddler use a tablet then you should be present during that time. He suggests that screen time should be interactive and children should not just be propped in front of a device to consume. Ok. I can work with that. So here are some changes that I have made. I have pulled back considerably on screen time. Nevaeh now goes days without even touching a device. If she does use it, I sing along with the songs and repeat what she hears from the video. I use an app for sight words where she has to touch the card to move to the next one after I say the word. I have increased her reading to two, sometimes three times a day. I play regular music for her and we dance to it. I sing to her more often. She also gets a lot of independent play time so that she learns to entertain herself without the help of technology. Head over to my YouTube channel to see Nevaeh’s top 5 toys. TVs count too! While I don’t go all day without watching TV, it’s usually on something she won’t give the time of day to. We share a room, so at bed time the TV is off. If I need to use my phone I leave the room.

No one ever said raising a child was easy. Sacrifice is clearly par for the course. So if my device habit has to take a back seat to my daughter having the best possible environment to develop in, then so be it. I can put my phone down, turn off my computer, and switch off my TV if that’s what it takes. That being said, I don’t think there is a need to deal in extremes here. Nevaeh did learn somethings from her time spent watching her sing-a-long videos. She recognizes songs and even attempts to sing the parts that have words that she can say. Given the right strategy, I believe using technology as a tool to help teach is the happy medium I mentioned earlier.

What’s your take? How much screen time do you allow your kids to have? Let me know in the comments!

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  1. […] video inspired my latest blog post about screen time for toddlers. If you haven’t already, check out that post as […]

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