FAMILY DIGITAL WELLNESS GUIDE
Birth – Preschool
Sections in this Guide
Infants & Toddlers (Birth - 2)
We Recommend…For children under 18 months, we recommend limiting the use of digital devices and media to video chatting with family and friends. For toddlers, screen time can be expanded to include watching child-centered programming with an engaged parent or caregiver.
In reality, nearly two-thirds of children under age 2 use screen-based media on a daily basis. Parents and other caregivers use media and devices much of the day for a number of reasons, many of which can be categorized as the demands of daily life. Screens can occupy infants when we need to be doing something else. While we recommend limiting screens at this age, we recognize that they can serve a purpose in our busy lives and we want to help you to use them well and in ways that can most benefit you and your developing child.
We Recommend…Children 3-5 years old can engage productively with interactive media for short periods of time and in video chats with friends and loved ones. We recommend that receptive screen time (such as watching videos) is limited to their attention span for each viewing, and no more than 2 hours total per day.
Preschool-aged children spend an average of 2 hours per day using screens. While we continue to recommend limiting receptive screen use at this age, we recognize that screen media serve a purpose in our busy lives and we want to help you to use them well and in ways that can most benefit you and your preschooler. As with infants and toddlers, always consider what your preschooler will be watching and learning from and what they will not be doing because they are on a screen.
Best Practices for
BIRTH - PRESCHOOL
When watching a tv show, movie, or other screen, interact with your child by pointing things out, asking questions, and modeling prosocial reactions.
- Even babies who aren’t yet talking can understand and learn from many of the words you’re using and your tone of voice.
- Preschoolers can hold a conversation and talk with you about what they’re seeing. Ask questions about what they think the characters are feeling or how they might react if they were in the story.
Whenever possible, when watching a video or video chatting, sit with your child physically next to you or on your lap. Use the opportunity to cuddle and to look at one another while engaged with screens.
Preschoolers especially need interaction with their primary caregivers to learn and develop their social, emotional, and cognitive skills. When you are able to focus on your child, your time is best spent interacting directly with one another without the distraction of screens and other devices.
Encourage their chat partner to talk directly to your child, sing songs, play games, or repeat movements (such as hand clapping) to get your child to imitate these actions. If they point out something about the child (such as “look at those strong legs!”), you can tickle or touch them, to further the interaction. Preschool-aged children can show schoolwork, demonstrate new skills (“look what I can do!”), or tell stories.
Many television shows, movies, and apps invite even the youngest children to participate in the story. They may be asked to repeat after the character, answer a question, do an active movement (such as “hop like a bunny” or “dance like me”), or sing along. These media are more engaging and better support a child’s development and healthy media use.
Try to gauge how they are responding to different kinds of content and assess their attention span. Young children’s attention spans are roughly 2-3 minutes per year of age – so 2-year-olds have a 4-6 minute attention span, 3-year-olds 6-9 minutes, 4-year-olds 8-12 minutes. This tends to be much shorter than most television programs or videos. Watch for when your child breaks their gaze and looks elsewhere. Use that as a guide for how long for them to view a screen before moving on to other activities.
Research indicates that children as young as 3 months old show gender and race preferences; by preschool, children have internalized racial messages of society. Young children will notice differences and can hold conversations about them. Select tv shows, movies, and books that show a variety of differences – including gender, race, and ability – and ask questions or make observations:
- “Your hair is very dark and Elsa’s is very light. You both have such beautiful hair!”
- “Molly loves to go exploring in the woods just like you do!”
- “Daniel Tiger calls his Grampy ‘Grandpere’. Isn’t that a cool name?”
When parents use their devices during mealtime, families lose out on important bonding time with their children and can support the development of less healthy eating practices. During meals, turn off the television and make sure tablets and smartphones are turned off and not in the room.
Most applications and devices offer parents opportunities to disable ads, turn on safe-search mode, and block content. They offer password protection as well as bookmarking services to make preferred games and websites easy to access. If you’re not sure how to engage these protections, search for the Trust, Safety, or Parent sections of an app’s or device’s website.