We hear the warnings: too much screen time causes all kinds of problems for our kids. Obesity, low motivation, anti-social behaviour, reading lags, attention-type disorders or trouble, and addictions to the devices can happen when a young child becomes too attached to screens. Mobile devices can even be fodder for massive tantrums! We can’t blame our kids, can we? Screens are bright, fun, and enjoyable.

But, given all the warnings that too much screen time is detrimental, parents still admit to using them as babysitters, calm-down tools, bribes, and distractors. Please know that I lump myself in there too—I’ve “accidentally” fallen asleep while my boys watch a Wild Kratts show only to wake up an hour later; way past their screen-off time.

Screens can be okay for children as long as they are introduced in the right way and strict limits are placed on their use. They can be educational and fun, so here are my suggestions for keeping it that way as your child grows.

Follow the American Pediatric Association (APA) guidelines. These guidelines have been very well researched and created by educated people. I know we might not like them, but they are really good boundaries for screen use.

The bottom line is to not introduce screens at all to children under the age of two. I wholeheartedly agree with this. I know this is challenging because being around young children can be incredibly exhausting, and the screens give us time to regroup and often make them stop yelling. I have dedicated my career to providing suggestions for parents to get rest and guide little ones in a way that encourages cooperation. Please do look for my Facebook page to see all the articles I write and post there.

After children turn two, it is okay to start showing TV shows to them, but still do not hand a mobile device to them. Don’t shoot the messenger! Again, we need to put our child’s development first. Stick to a maximum of one twenty-minute show per day to start.

As your child gets older, you can increase the amount of TV time. By age four, two or three twenty-minute shows would be okay.

So when can you introduce mobile devices to children? The APA (and I) suggest that age four is okay for that. Many companies have fancy marketing programs that tout apps or computer programs as “educational” for children under four. This is simply not true. Sure, they might teach your child something, but that kind of learning isn’t necessary at this age. The best teachers for young children are books, toys, and the stuff outside!


Steer away from using screens as a reward. For example: “If you put your puzzle away, you can have the iPad.” We want to avoid creating a negative paired-association between screens and motivation. If a child is offered screen time as a reward, (s)he might lose the internal motivation and self-pride to getting something done. Rewards are tricky that way: they can steal our oomph for wanting to do something for the feeling of accomplishment.

Similarly, pick other methods as incentive to keep behaviour on the right track. Offering children screen time when they are having an emotional melt-down is likely to get them to stop yelling, but it won’t teach them how to manage their emotions, problem solve, or communicate effectively. These are really important skills to develop over the long-term. I’m going to say that this doesn’t count when you are in an airplane: all bets are off when travelling!

Create a screen-time schedule. Establish what days of the week and for how long your child can use/ watch a screen. This will avoid constant begging! Feel free to write out the schedule and post that so when your child whines, “Can I watch a show? Pleeeeeease!” You can point to the schedule and say, “Sure – tomorrow after school.” This really does help reduce battles around screen use.

Have a time limit and stick to it. Establish how long your child can use/ watch the screen for each time they have it. I like putting on some kind of digital timer to count down the time. This way the child can see how much time is left. To avoid negotiating and power struggles, give your child warnings so he doesn’t ask for five more minutes to finish what he is doing. Get him doing that five minutes before the timer goes off! If your child protests, you can calmly say, “There are five minutes left in your screen time. I will be turning ____ off when the timer rings. What do you need to finish NOW to be done in time?”

If you allow your child to have extra time or an extra show after the timer has gone off, you might inadvertently teach him or her that pushing you works.

Pick your TV time carefully when your children are younger. Choose ones that don’t have commercials. If you have on-demand or a DVR, save a show and watch that when it suits you. It is easier to turn the TV off after one show rather than watching a channel that goes directly into the next show. Preview any movies you’d like to show to your older child. I got caught off-guard when the parents in “Frozen” disappeared, and my son wanted to know what happened to them. I did write more about movies in particular in this post.

Similarly, pick your mobile device time carefully. Start with games without graphic violence in them. Minecraft is a thing in our house (sigh), but I’m okay with them choosing that versus games that are shocking. I let my six-year-old start on an iPad last year with drawing and building-type games.

Pick educational Apps versus games. There are many great Apps by reputable companies like National Geographic out there. We were introduced to a new educational App that teaches children how to read. It is called Ooka Island, and my boys love it. It is gamey enough that they feel like they are “playing” but I can see that they are actually learning to read.

For example, the Ooka Island reading program has a Cave of Sounds, where you are told to listen for a sound (like “oo”), then as you fly to a gateway, are asked to touch the letters that correspond to the sound. There’s also Alphabet Mountain where you hop up through the letters of the alphabet. My older son actually enjoys doing these actions even though he is a confident reader.


Wait as LONG as possible before introducing video games. My boys are six and eight-years-old and we’ve managed to steer them away from having a video game system in our house. I’m fine with them using gaming systems at friend’s or relative’s houses, and am sure to mention, “Isn’t it fun that you can play those games at Jake’s house.” I’m surprised that they don’t push us about having a system in our house (yet). Once you start using games, it is hard to stop.


I am an ambassador of Ooka Island: all opinions are my own. If you would like to try their free month trial, please click here