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No more guessing: Screen time guidelines for toddlers to teenagers

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Screen time: It’s probably one of the most debated and occasionally frustrating aspects of parenting in the modern age. Pediatricians and researchers say too much time with phones, tablets or TVs is bad for developing minds. But, for many families, a screen-free childhood isn’t possible or even desirable. After all, we live in a digital age and our kids need to be tech and media savvy.


Matthew Johnson, the Director of Education for MediaSmarts, a not-for-profit charitable organization for digital and media literacy, screen-time balance is about more than counting minutes—and looks different at every stage of childhood.

Here’s what we know about age-appropriate limits for screen time:

For toddlers

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, toddlers should pretty much only see screens during occasional video chats with Grandma. In fact, The Atlantic reports that video chat evokes a different neurological response in babies and toddlers than pure TV time, noting that children seem to understand the video chat is a two-way human interaction that is different than television or even phone conversation:

“Babies who are pretty young are able to pick up, in particular, whether or not an adult is actually responding to them in real time. . . [and] researchers have found that toddlers are more comforted by their mothers via video chat than they are through audio alone. Video chat appears to be, conceptually, much easier for babies to grasp than a phone conversation,” The Atlantic notes.

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But even video chat should be limited.

“There really is fairly strong evidence that time spent with screens can have a negative effect on kids’ language and other forms of development,” Johnson tells Motherly. “[It’s] not necessarily because there’s anything particularly bad about screens, but because it replaces the kinds of human interactions and physical and creative play that kids at that age really need to develop.”

For preschoolers

Three to 5 year olds are known for loving video screens as much as they love cartoon characters—and, according to Johnson, their obsession with both can be satisfied in moderation.

“There’s nothing particularly bad about handheld devices compared to other types of screens, except of course the temptation to use them as a calming or distracting device,” he says. He adds parents should plan screen time in advance so that it is only used mindfully, rather than out of desperation.

And if your kiddo is obsessed with Frozen or Paw Patrol, Johnson suggests engaging with those characters off screen.

“Many, many types of screen media content have print or other versions, so you can read a book or a comic that features those characters frequently,” he says. “You can also engage your kids in creative play. You can get them to draw or tell stories or act out their own versions of these character’s adventures.”

For elementary school-aged kids

When kids enter school and start to have new priorities, screen time needs to take a back seat. But, as they grow, parents can gradually give kids more control and choice in managing their time.

“Certainly once they start getting homework at school, you want to make sure screens aren’t a habit before work gets done,” says Johnson, who compares teaching screen time balance to teaching oral hygiene. “When kids are young, you brush their teeth but as they grow you teach them and remind them to do it.”

He suggests that as kids age, parents make distinctions between different types of screen time—as not everything has the same value.

“Specifically, instead of counting hours you might consider a creative use of screens—doing an animation project or doing school research—as being counted differently than using it in a passive way.”

For middle schoolers

According to Johnson, once a child is in middle school they can understand the concept of balance. Then it’s up to parents to help them see how that relates to screen time.

“Make a list of all the different activities that they like, that are both in screens and that aren’t involved with screens,” he says, explaining this can help them understand that there are trade-offs.

He says parents don’t need to worry if a kid gets really into a certain video game for a week or two. Just gently try to help the kid see the benefits of moderation. He explains, “They do need to develop the life skill—as we all need to do today—to recognize when we’re spending too much time doing any one thing, particularly with screens.”

For the whole family

Johnson says the biggest downside of screen time is its tendency to isolate us. To counteract that, he suggests a family movie night or outing to the cinema. Because this has a totally different affect on children than solitary YouTube sessions, parents shouldn’t worry about counting communal activities against a screen time limit.

He says parents should also have conversations about appropriate amounts of media consumption often—and model the behavior we want.

“We need to gradually shift that responsibility from us to them,” he says. “Eventually they’re going to be teenagers or they’re going to be out of the house and it's going to be entirely up to them to manage it.”

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By: Justine LoMonaco


From the moment my daughter was born, I felt an innate need to care for her. The more I experienced motherhood, I realized that sometimes this was simple―after all, I was hardwired to respond to her cries and quickly came to know her better than anyone else ever could―but sometimes it came with mountains of self-doubt.

This was especially true when it came to feeding. Originally, I told myself we would breastfeed―exclusively. I had built up the idea in my mind that this was the correct way of feeding my child, and that anything else was somehow cheating. Plus, I love the connection it brought us, and so many of my favorite early memories are just my baby and me (at all hours of night), as close as two people can be as I fed her from my breast.

Over time, though, something started to shift. I realized I felt trapped by my daughter's feeding schedule. I felt isolated in the fact that she needed me―only me―and that I couldn't ask for help with this monumental task even if I truly needed it. While I was still so grateful that I was able to breastfeed without much difficulty, a growing part of me began fantasizing about the freedom and shared burden that would come if we bottle fed, even just on occasion.

I was unsure what to expect the first time we tried a bottle. I worried it would upset her stomach or cause uncomfortable gas. I worried she would reject the bottle entirely, meaning the freedom I hoped for would remain out of reach. But in just a few seconds, those worries disappeared as I watched her happily feed from the bottle.

What I really didn't expect? The guilt that came as I watched her do so. Was I robbing her of that original connection we'd had with breastfeeding? Was I setting her up for confusion if and when we did go back to nursing? Was I failing at something without even realizing it?

In discussing with my friends, I've learned this guilt is an all too common thing. But I've also learned there are so many reasons why it's time to let it go.

1) I'm letting go of guilt because...I shouldn't feel guilty about sharing the connection with my baby. It's true that now I'm no longer the only one who can feed and comfort her any time of day or night. But what that really means is that now the door is open for other people who love her (my partner, grandparents, older siblings) to take part in this incredible gift. The first time I watched my husband's eyes light up as he fed our baby, I knew that I had made the right choice.

2) I'm letting go of guilt because...the right bottle will prevent any discomfort. It took us a bit of trial and error to find the right bottle that worked for my baby, but once we did, we rarely dealt with gas or discomfort―and the convenience of being able to pack along a meal for my child meant she never had to wait to eat when she was hungry. Dr. Brown's became my partner in this process, offering a wide variety of bottles and nipples designed to mimic the flow of my own milk and reduce colic and excess spitting up. When we found the right one, it changed everything.

3) I'm letting go of guilt because...I've found my joy in motherhood again. That trapped feeling that had started to overwhelm me? It's completely gone. By removing the pressure on myself to feed my baby a certain way, I realized that it was possible to keep her nourished and healthy―while also letting myself thrive.

So now, sometimes we use the bottle. Sometimes we don't. But no matter how I keep my baby fed, I know we've found the right way―guilt free.


This article is sponsored by Dr. Browns. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.


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Learn + Play

The first time my daughter told me someone named Ashley painted her nails at Daddy's house I thought I was going to implode. Another woman was loving on my daughter in the family I built. I texted my ex, "Who is Ashley and how long have you known her and why is she painting my daughter's nails?"

What should have come next was, I feel replaced. I am jealous. I am competitive. I am angry. I am heartbroken.

Instead, I told myself it was my "mama lion" coming out; the woman who wanted to protect her child from a string of girlfriends and hold her little heart safely in my hands. It was partly true, but the hysteria and anger I felt signaled that much deeper hurt was bubbling its way to the surface and using "it's for our daughter" as an excuse to play out my pain.

It took a full 24 hours of deep anger, soul searching, crying and finally surrender, to realize that my daughter would have other women in her life and I had no say in how they entered, behaved or left.

I had to give up my desire to control what happened at Daddy's house. My only power lied in my influence over my daughter and on that day I chose to believe that she would be a much healthier human being if she was raised by strong women who came together to support her in life.

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Women have been programmed to compete for jobs, security and partners in our patriarchal society. It is understandable that we feel competitive when another woman falls in love with the man we once did, and tucks the children that came from our bodies into beds that aren't made by us.

It is programming, but that doesn't mean it is permanent. It also doesn't mean there isn't pain to be felt, processed and released. You have to heal your wounds so you can approach the new members of your child's life with grace and forge new relationships.

It requires a shift in mindset and a retooling of your previous relationship, a lot of confidence and respect on all parts, and a focus on the child first. You have to recognize the influence a stepparent will have on your child and that it is better to be teamed up and kid-centered, as opposed to stewing over past issues, sitting in blame, regret or jealousy. I had to discover who I was as a newly single woman and co-parenting mother without old stories.

Ashley only painted Olivia's nails for a year or so, and her dad and I had great conversations about how and when we would bring people into our daughter's life. When he met Jessica he called me, "I've met someone and I'd like to introduce her to Olivia, but wanted to talk to you about it."

My only question has ever been, "Is she a good person?" We talked about Jessica, his feelings and certainty, and over time they met and we did too. I sent him a text after a brief and completely casual encounter, "I like her. Don't mess it up."

Jessica and I ran into one another at a yoga studio shortly after they all moved in together. She asked how I felt Olivia was handling the change and very sweetly offered, "You are always the mom!" I smiled, appreciative of the unnecessary gesture, and told her that Olivia loves feminine energy and that she'd thrive having Jessica in the same house.

Several years later I not only love Jessica, I love their son, Luke, as well. Our entire little blended family lucked out. Jessica treats Olivia as her own but is so conscientious about my role in Olivia's life that I've never felt threatened. I am thrilled my daughter is supported by a strong, confident woman and that she sees us getting along as a village, as opposed to competitors.

Jessica recently called me concerned that Olivia was receiving poor messages at school about the importance of pretty as opposed to smart. We came up with a plan, laid down a few rules for messaging in both houses and in no time we had a little feminist running around with t-shirts announcing "Girls Are Smart, Strong and Brave." We spend Christmas mornings together, Halloween trick or treating, and have deep respect for one another and our passions, relationships and careers.

When I recently vacationed in Tanzania I had to update my estate plan and asked Jessica if, in the extreme unlikelihood that both of Olivia's parents were to pass while she was a minor, would she become Olivia's guardian? It's important to me that Olivia grows up with the brother she adores and a woman who loves her (almost) as much as I do.

There wasn't a missed beat, "Absolutely. I want them to stay together." While Luke doesn't care for me as much since I keep Olivia away from him every other week, "Sissy mommy, go home," we work.

We are blessed that each one of us, at some point, made a choice to let fears, ego, jealousy, blame and hurt go for the sake of one little girl and our collective family.

Excerpt from LORE: Harnessing Your Past to Create Your Future with permission from Balboa Press.

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I gave birth to my daughter, Emerson, at age 37 and my son, Liam, at age 38. My children are intentionally only 18 months apart because I didn't want to tempt the hands of time.

I was induced at 37 weeks for both births, impressed that my body could withstand natural childbirth considering that my biggest fear was that I wouldn't be able to push them out on my own. But I did and our healthy babies were here at last.

For me, being of an "advanced maternal age" has its physical limitations. The toddler years were exhausting, the bones in my feet crack when I do something as simple as walk across a room, and if I try anything remotely athletic—like jump on the trampoline with my now 6-and-7-year-old—there's a good chance I'll pee my pants.

Despite the fact that I don't have as much energy as I used to (coffee helps, but let's be honest), I'm so happy I had my kids when I did. Here are the advantages I've found in older motherhood.

1. I don't feel like I'm missing out.

Before I got married, I traveled the world, as far as Greece, Thailand and Japan. I spent summers after college living with friends in a tiny bungalow a few blocks from the beach. I earned my master's degree while working at a publishing house in New York City—those years of my life earmarked by intellectual freedom, spontaneous happy hours and long stretches of time when I could simply wander the city with nowhere in particular to go.

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Now I have a busier schedule and I'm responsible for more humans, but I'm just as happy going to the shore for a week each summer and taking short road trips with our children. And when my friends tell me they're going on a family vacation to the tropics, I'm not envious, but rather relieved that I'll be sitting on my couch binge-watching The Real Housewives of New Jersey while they're flying across the ocean with their kids.

2. I think differently about friendship.

Do I want to be well-liked by the moms at my kids' school? Of course. Do I need to be in the "popular" mom group? No. I don't feel pressure to get invited to every at-home jewelry party or moms' night out and, if it weren't for Facebook, I'd be oblivious to what other moms do on the weekends anyway.

I have amazing girlfriends and spending quality time with these women keeps me feeling like myself. But I'm more invested in my kids' social well-being than my own. Do they have kind friends? Are they happy at school? Are they able to resolve big-kid conflicts fairly quickly? And if my children have a playdate at someone else's house, can I stay?

I'm not lingering at playdates to check out the condition of the playroom or scan the medicine cabinet for questionable prescription labels but because I genuinely want to get to know the parents of my kids' friends. They'll be spending a lot of time together, and as the kids' friendship grows, hopefully, ours will too.

3. I'm not afraid to speak up.

Maybe I'm a bit overzealous about checking for strep throat or ask too many questions during my kids' wellness visits, but our pediatrician and I have come to a mutual understanding. I respect that she's the one with the medical degree (not Google), and she knows I'm vigilant about my kids' health not because I'm too much, but because I'm confident enough to trust my gut.

While my younger self would avoid confrontation AT ALL COSTS, the older me doesn't waste any time if I sense that something is off at school or not quite right with my child. Whether I'm talking to their doctor, coach or teacher, I approach the conversation as if I'm speaking with an equal who also has the best interest of my kids at heart.

4. I see the big picture.

When I was a kid, I put a ton of pressure on myself to get straight A's to the point of hyperventilating when I got a B on a test only to be sent to the nurse's office to breathe into a brown paper bag (true story). No child should be that worried about grades because even though I graduated at the top of my high school class, I don't remember much except for that time my friend Jen made crepes on an electric skillet during French class.

When it comes to my kids' education, less homework is more. Longer recess and more independent play are best. Does my child have an outdoorsy teacher who hatches baby chicks in class? Great! Do they have a nice group of friends to sit with at lunch? Even better!

I'm 100% confident my kids will learn everything they need to in school without having to stress over it, something I might have overlooked when I was still focused on the small details.

5. I've learned to slooow down.

Growing up, my younger sister and I would build forts out of cardboard boxes and ride our bikes until it was time to come inside for dinner. We shared a bedroom until I was 10, wore hand-me-downs and spent most of our childhood outside.

Today I realize that my kids don't need overpacked schedules, fancy vacations or expensive toys to be happy. What they do need is downtime, trips to the library, nature walks, unstructured play, and lazy summers when we swim every day and eat dinner outside every night.

I also take a more laid-back approach to discipline than I would have before. I don't react to their overreactions. We talk, I give them the reasons behind what I say and do, and I'm quick to apologize if I do something wrong. Although this approach isn't fool-proof, it makes them feel safe to express a wide range of emotions in front of me without feeling bad about it.

The older I get, the more appreciative I am of those fleeting childhood moments.

Like when Emerson says "I love you" first.

Or when Liam calls me an "adorable, normal mom" and we both laugh because neither one of us is exactly sure what he means but it's funny anyway.

When Emerson reaches for my hand or Liam needs to be consoled a little longer because it's not only his knee that hurts.

When they dance while brushing their teeth, admiring themselves in a spit-speckled mirror.

When they laugh so hard together I thank God they'll have each other—even long after I'm gone.

I'm aware that my time with them is limited—they will grow up, go to college, move out and start their own families while I watch proudly from the sidelines. But until then, I'll give them all of me and continue to parent from an older—albeit not perfect but hopefully a bit wiser—perspective.

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Life

Adele's albums have soothed many hearts through hard times, and now she's going through a big relationship transition of her own.

The singer is separating from her husband Simon Konecki, the father of her 6-year-old son, Angelo James.

"Adele and her partner have separated," Adele's people wrote in a statement to the Associated Press. "They are committed to raising their son together lovingly. As always they ask for privacy. There will be no further comment."

Our hearts go out to Adele. Of course, she doesn't owe anyone any further explanation or discussion of her separation, but by announcing it publicly, she is shining a light on a family dynamic that is so common but not talked about as much as it should be: Co-parenting.

Parenting with an ex is a reality for so many mothers. According to the Pew Research Center, "the likelihood of a child – even one born to two married parents – spending part of their childhood in an unmarried parent household is on the rise."

Angelo James' experience will be similar to many of his peers.

"Increases in divorce mean that more than one-in-five children born within a marriage will experience a parental breakup by age 9, as will more than half of children born within a cohabiting union," Pew notes.

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Adele and Konecki already know a thing or two about how co-parenting works, as Konecki has an older child from a previous relationship.

They can make this work because so many parents are making this work. The reality is, two parents can still be a family, and be a team for their child without being romantic partners.

Decades ago, co-parenting after a divorce wasn't the norm, and a body of research (and the experience of a generation of kids) has changed the way parents do things today. Today, divorce isn't about the end of a family. It's about the evolution of one.

Research suggests joint physical custody is linked to better outcomes for kids than divorce arrangements that don't support shared parenting and that divorced couples who have "ongoing personal and emotional involvement with their former spouse"(so, are friends, basically) are more likely to rate their co-parenting relationship positively.

Co-parenting is good for kids, and clearly, Adele and Konecki are committed to being a team for Angelo James.

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News

If you've had a baby in a hospital you know that those first few nights can be really hard. There are so many benefits for babies sharing rooms with their mamas (as opposed to being shipped off to those old-school, glassed-in nurseries) but tired mamas have a lot of conflicting messages coming at them.

You're told to bond with your baby, but not to fall asleep with them in the bed, and to let them rest in their bassinet. But when you're recovering from something that is (at best) the most physically demanding thing a person can do or (at worst) major surgery, moving your baby back and forth from bed to bassinette all night long sure doesn't sound like fun.

That's why this photo of a co-sleeping hospital bed is going viral again, four years after it was first posted by Australian parenting site Belly Belly. The photo continues to attract attention because the bed design is enviable, but is it real? And if so, why aren't more hospitals using it?

The bed is real, and it's Dutch. The photo originated from Gelderse Vallei hospital. As GoodHouskeeping reported back in 2015, the clip-on co-sleepers were introduced as a way to help mom and baby pairs who needed extended hospital stays—anything beyond one night in the maternity ward.

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Plenty of moms stateside wish we had such beds in our maternity wards, but as but Dr. Iffath Hoskins, an OB-GYN, told Yahoo Parenting in 2015, the concept wouldn't be in line with American hospitals' safe sleeping policies.

"If the mother rolls over from exhaustion, there would be the risk of smothering the baby," she told Yahoo. "The mother's arm could go into that space in her sleep and cover the baby, or she could knock a pillow to the side and it's on the baby."

Hoskins also believes that having to get in and out of bed to get to your baby in the night is good for moms who might be otherwise reluctant to move while recovering from C-sections. If you don't move, the risk of blood clots in the legs increases. "An advantage of being forced to get up for the baby is that it forces the mother to move her legs — it's a big plus. However painful it can be, it's important for new moms to move rather than remaining in their hospital beds."

So there you have it. The viral photo is real, but don't expect those beds to show up in American maternity wards any time soon.

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News
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