Screen Time During the COVID-19 Pandemic and Beyond

The “Stay-at-Home” orders intended to slow the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus has highlighted the extraordinary impact —both positive and negative — “screens” have on our lives. Although we are living in extraordinary circumstances at the moment, monitoring screen time is important now — and in the future. What’s the impact of screen time on development in the first five years? How can we encourage growth and learning with and without screens?

Prenatal to Age 1: The World Health Organization (WHO) stated in 2019 that infants and toddlers under the age of two should not be exposed to electronic screens at any time. Why? Babies bond and learn emotional, social, language and other important skills from birth through interactions with parents and other caregivers. For healthy development, babies need physical, mental and emotional contact with other humans. “Tummy time” exercise enhances coordination and muscle development. Speaking, singing and reading aloud to babies aid cognitive and emotional development from the start. If you need to look at a screen, try to do it while your baby sleeps or is in the stroller.

Ages 1-3: The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that toddlers under the age of 24 months view screens only for video chatting, and only under adult supervision. Between two and four, WHO urges parents to limit daily screen time to just one hour. Why? More screen time cuts into time that children might be physically active, engaging with others and practicing skills. Speaking, small and gross motor coordination and problem-solving skills grow out of interacting with playthings, play environments and other people. During the quarantine, screens may temporarily be used for “visits” that serve a social purpose, however. Turning off background screens such as televisions or computers during playtime or meals can help family members connect with each other.

Ages 4-5: Your child may be using screens for school at this time, which may make limiting other screen time more complicated. AAP guidelines suggest that from age two through preschool, children should view screens no more than an hour a day, watch high-quality, educational content (such as Sesame Street) and co-view content with an adult. Setting a schedule and rules for screens during the quarantine — which may be different from other times — clarifies expectations for children. Since increased screen time has been linked to childhood obesity, making sure your preschooler is physically active 90 minutes a day is important, especially during the quarantine.


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