At my parenting workshops, toddler parents always ask me –
“How much screen time can I give my toddler?”
My answer is in keeping with the guidelines issued by the IAP (Indian Academy of Pediatrics) in their 2021 guidelines.
- Children below 2 years of age should not have any screentime.
- Children between 2 – 5 years should have a maximum of 60 minutes of screen time in a day, split into 2 sessions of 30 minutes each
Why is it important to follow screen time guidelines for toddlers?
Toddlerhood is a time of rapid physical, emotional and cognitive growth, and screens stunt this growth because they interfere with –
- Sleep –
Both the brain and the body of toddlers grow rapidly when they sleep. Devices emit blue light and interfere with sleep.
- Human interaction –
The process of serve and return that happens during human interactions is crucial for building new neural connections in the brain which results in brain growth. Screens reduce the opportunities for such interactions.
- Development of social skills –
Toddlers need close interactions with people to learn to read faces and emotions. Devices come in the way of this and impact the development of social skills.
- Acquisition of impulse control –
Devices stimulate the reward centre of the brain and become addictive. This comes in the way of developing impulse control which leads to tantrums.
How to minimize the adverse impact of devices on toddlers?
Screens are everywhere nowadays, and it is extremely difficult to keep even very young children device-free. However, you can minimize the exposure to and impact of devices on your toddler considerably by doing the following.
- Follow device discipline yourself.
- Do not use a screen to babysit your child while you work.
- Do not use screens to distract your child to feed them or to end their tantrums.
- Stock up on physical games to play with your child.
- Play songs and stories on audio.
- Plan activities, outdoor time, and story time so that your toddler does not gravitate to a device.
- Involve your child in chores to keep them feeling productive.
- Ensure that you always co-watch all content with your child.
What to do if your toddler throws a tantrum for screen time?
When your toddler throws a tantrum for screen time remember that they are asking for the screen because they assume that you don’t have the time to interact and play with them.
- Instead of turning off or snatching away the device, start playing a real-life game with your child while the device is running. Then slowly move them away from the device.
- Offer outdoor playtime when your child wants a device.
Keeping your toddler away from devices may be difficult but is worth it. There is more than enough evidence to prove that devices do more harm than good when given to children below 5 years of age.
During the toddler years it is best to use devices only to connect (via video chat). Completely avoid passive consumption of media.
Dr. Debmita Dutta MBBS, MD
Dr. Debmita Dutta MBBS, MD is a doctor, a parenting consultant, and the founder of WPA whatparentsask.com She conducts online and offline workshops on parenting for schools and corporate organisations. She also conducts online and offline prenatal and infant care classes. She is a well-known thought-leader in parenting and an expert on play, learning and eating habits. She is the author of 7 books on parenting published by Juggernaut Books and her books are among their most read books. She is frequently quoted in national and international publications of repute for her empathetic and compassionate approach and her application of physiology and neuroscience to parenting.