Kids and Screen Time—What’s Too Much?

What're the effects of too much screen time on kids? Trying to limit screen time can be challenging and lead to conflicts. To help, here are the screen time recommendations by age for children, teens, and babies.

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Sep 20, 2022 UPDATED
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Let’s face it. Raising, teaching, and caring for babies, kids, and teens was never easy. It's particularly difficult in the age where screens are everywhere, monopolizing the eyes and attention of kids, teens, and adults of all ages.

You may wonder if it's beneficial or even possible to limit screen time for kids in the midst of a global pandemic—during a time when so many things can feel extra stressful and uncertain, and when many kids rely on screens to learn via remote education. 

If you’re having conflict or arguments with your kids or teens about limiting screen time, you’re not alone.

You might’ve seen or heard conflicting information on children and technology, and that may have left you feeling curious or confused.

Many large studies have found excessive screen time can have negative effects on kids' mental health, behavior, and development. 

But, how much is too much screen time, and for what ages? 

Also, does it matter what type of screen time is being experienced?

Below we provide clear screen time limits for each age, along with charts, and helpful study-backed information. 

It may help to understand the current expert recommendations so that you can provide rules, boundaries, and limits for your kids.

We checked the latest studies and national guidelines to help demystify this topic by providing clear limits for each age, along with charts, and helpful study-backed information. 

How much screen time should kids and teens have?

Sometimes it feels like screens are everywhere. 

Especially after two years living in a pandemic, pretty much all of us—and that includes kids and teens—probably felt like we each experienced way too much screen time. 

Many large studies have found that excessive screen time may have negative effects on kids' health, behavior, and development. 

And with both the Apple iPhone and Netflix’s streaming service turning 15 years old this year (the first iPhones debuted in 2007—the same year Netflix started its streaming business), you might be wondering: How much is too much? And what are the impacts, effects, and symptoms of too much screen time? Also, what are the latest screen time recommendations by age?

If you’re having conflict or arguments with your kids or teens about limiting screen time, you’re not alone.

More than half of American teens feel addicted to their mobile phones. 

According to a 2016 Common Sense Media poll of 1,240 parents and kids, over one-third of American families argue with each other on a daily basis about mobile phone use.

Read on for insights and tips on how to navigate a healthy screen time balance with children, at any age. 

Is screen time bad for kids?

The same 2016 Common Sense Media poll mentioned above, found that more than half of American teens feel addicted to their mobile phones. 

Multitasking and toggling between screens “can impair kids’ ability to create memories and learn effectively.”

Their white paper concluded that there may be cause for concern around tech and screen time which “in extreme cases can have very damaging consequences.” 

The writers go on to point out that multitasking and toggling between screens “can impair kids’ ability to create memories and learn effectively” and that problematic screen time can “undermine the development of empathy."

negative effects of kids getting too much screen time

According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) while “screens can entertain, teach, and keep children occupied, too much use may lead to problems.”

The specific issues the AACAP mentions include: “sleep problems, lower grades in school, reading fewer books, less time with family and friends, not enough outdoor or physical activity, weight problems, mood problems, poor self-image and body image issues, fear of missing out (aka FOMO), and less time learning other ways to relax and have fun.”

Kids who experience more hours of screen time seem to report lower well-being.

In 2018, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) provided $300 million in funding for leading researchers to conduct The ABCD (Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development) Study, which invited 11,878 children ages 9–10 to participate.

Researchers are tracking their biological and behavioral development through adolescence into adulthood.

The initial wave of 2018 data from the NIH study seemed to show that the nine and 10-year-old kids who had more than seven hours per day of screen time had signs of premature thinning of the cortex, the brain's outermost layer that processes sensory information. These results were aired on CBS' 60 Minutes in December 2018.

Children who are high users of screens “show less curiosity, self-control, and emotional stability.”

Another large national study of over 40,000 kids ages 2–7 published in Preventive Medicine Reports in December 2018, found that kids who experience more hours of screen time seem to report lower well-being.

What's more, the children who are high users of screens “show less curiosity, self-control, and emotional stability.”

According to a 2018 Pew Research Center survey, almost 60% of American teens said they’ve been victims of cyberbullying or abusive online behaviors including offensive name-calling, false rumors, unwanted explicit images, and/or physical threats. 

scree time by kids

American kids’ average screen time

In a 2019 Common Sense Media report on Media Use By Teens and Tweens, 1,600 American children (8–18) were surveyed about their use of media and technology.

By age 11, more than half of American kids have their own smartphones.

The report discovered that smartphone ownership increased dramatically between 2014-2019, particularly among young tweens ages 8–12. By age 11, more than half of American kids have their own smartphones.

media use by tweens

With all those smartphones, it’s probably not surprising their report found that American tweens (8–12) spent nearly five hours on screens per day, and teens (13–18) spent an average of nearly 7 and a half hours per day on screens. (Note that these daily averages do not include any screen time for schoolwork or homework. When you add in virtual learning, reading, and video chatting, the amount of daily tech time soars.) 

If you’re wondering how much time your kids are spending on screens, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has a Family Media Time Tool to calculate media time and create family media plans based on each child’s age.

What are the screen time recommendations by age? 

The guidelines on screen time for babies and young toddlers are slightly varied by each major health organization. 

While the WHO (World Health Organization) recommends zero screen time for kids younger than one year old, both the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the AACAP recommend children under 18 months limit screen use to only video chatting (such as to be able to see and hear a parent or grandparent who's out of town) along with another adult who is physically present in the room with the child.

Screen time guidelines for kids by age

Parents may want to consider the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines.

For children younger than 18 months

Avoid use of screen media other than video-chatting.

For children 18–24 months

Parents who want to introduce digital media should choose high-quality programming and watch it with their children to help them understand what they're seeing.

For children ages 2–5 years

Limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programs. Parents should view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing.

For children ages 6 and older

Place consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep and physical activity. Also, designate media-free times together, such as dinner and driving, as well as media-free locations at home, such as bedrooms. Have ongoing conversations with your kids about online etiquette and safety, including treating others with respect online and offline.

screen time guidelines

Which leads to another question: Is all screen time the same?

Different types of screen time 

According to Common Sense Census from non-profit Common Sense Media there are four categories of screen time:

  • Passive consumption: watching TV, reading, and listening to music

  • Interactive consumption: playing games and browsing the internet

  • Communication: video chatting and social media

  • Content creation: using devices to make digital art and music

It may also be helpful to consider the “four Cs"—connection, critical thinking, creativity, and context—to inform decisions on the type(s) of screen time and amounts of screen time that are appropriate. 

Kids’ gender differences in screen time activities

American boys and girls are engaging in vastly different tech and screen time activities. 

american boy and girls screen time

The 2019 Common Sense Media report on “Media Use By Teens and Tweens” found that this gender difference is most pronounced when it comes to gaming activities. (See the chart above). 

For American boys (8–18) video gaming is their favorite screen time activity, whereas for American girls, it’s one of their least favorite activities.

Seventy percent of boys say they enjoy playing video games “a lot,” compared to just 23% of girls.

For American boys (8–18) video gaming is their favorite screen time activity.

And boys enjoy all types of gaming—mobile games, computer games, and especially console video games—more than girls do.

In comparison, American girls’ favorite screen time and tech activity is listening to music.

Seventy-three percent of girls (8–18) say they enjoy music “a lot,” compared to 59% of boys. Overall, girls tend to enjoy music, reading, and television more than boys.  

In comparison, American girls’ favorite screen time and tech activity is listening to music.

What about American teens? 

Half of all teenage girls (13–18) say they enjoy using social media “a lot” compared to about a third of boys in the same age range.

Seventy percent of American teen girls say they “use social media every day,” compared to 56% of boys.

Teenage girls are averaging an hour and a half a day on social media—more than 10 hours per week.

70% of American teen girls say they “use social media every day,” compared to 56% of boys.

In contrast, teen boys are averaging slightly less than an hour a day—and less than 7 hours per week—using social media. 

Tips to reduce screen time and keep a healthy balance 

Finally, here’s some advice to keep screen time in check from Monarch’s Expert Reviewer, Ellen Biros, MS, LCSW:

  1. Familiarize yourself with apps and YouTube channels your children may be interested in

  2. Be clear about how your child can download apps

  3. Know your child’s logins and passwords for each device

  4. Teach your child about online privacy and safety

  5. Be a good role model for your child—monitor your own screen time habits

  6. Discuss with your child the pros and cons of the content they are accessing   

If you’re feeling overwhelmed when parenting and/or caring for children, please know that you’re not alone. Finding a therapist to talk with may help.

READ NEXT: Parenting a Child with ADHD When You Have ADHD Yourself


Need to find a therapist? Check out the Monarch Directory by SimplePractice to find therapists near you with availability and online booking.


Article originally published May 17, 2022. Updated Sep 20, 2022.

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