How much screen time is too much?

baby-with-ipad-4It has happened. Degree by degree, minute by minute – television shows, apps, and e-books have become a daily part of life for my 2 year old. I think it started with his nanny (as a mom, it’s always easier to blame the nanny ;)). She would sit him to watch nursery rhyme videos and Pocoyo. I pushed back – not seeing the purpose for a 9 month old   to see any tv. I won the battle, but we are losing the war. Starting from about 18 months (which coincided with the last few months before I defended my dissertation), I would have him watch Wall-E*. Not the whole movie, just 10 minutes here and there, but he LOVED it. Wall-E was among his first 50 words.

How much screen time does he get now? I should know the answer. I know that I should know, but I don’t. In our house there is a tag-team approach to parenting. Mom needs to go to the doctor, TAG – you’re in. Dad needs to run to the market, TAG- you’re in. Mom and dad are going out to dinner, TAG – you’re in, Lolo (Miles couldn’t pronounce ‘abuelo,’ so my dad is now and forever more Lolo). I know that we all on occasion let him watch tv.  I don’t know how much exactly, but maybe….probably…definitely… too much.

This is actually a very confusing part of parenting for me. My relationship with television was…well…let’s put it this way. Television was my third and favorite parent. I have just as many memories of Full House, Saved by the Bell, and My So Called Life episodes than I do of family vacations and one-on-one time with my parents. Actually, who am I kidding. I remember TV way more than anything else. I could much sooner recall every TV show theme song than the elements of the periodic table. I had a small TV in my room starting in middle school. I used to stay up late and watch Nick at Nite. Did it fry my brain and make me unable to concentrate in school? No. Did it keep me from playing sports, doing plays, having friends, etc? No. However, when I think about the cumulative hours of my life spent watching tv, I am not at all proud. I see a huge opportunity cost in time.

TV, videos, and games are even more pervasive on our lives than ever. When Miles is beginning to melt down at a restaurant I can easily play an episode of his favorite show to calm him down. It’s convenient, but not my finest hour as a parent. I guess this must be how our parents felt about Walkmans and Gameboy, and how their parents felt about color tv and Elvis.

Do you have a strict time limit for screens for your kids (or for yourself)? Is there such a thing as TV addiction? How do you think technology is changing the way we watch TV? Have you seen this adorable babies with ipads blog?


* As an aside, there are no scary villains in Wall-e and very little dialog. It’s not exactly educational, but Miles did learn the word ‘plant.’




4 thoughts on “How much screen time is too much?

  1. Great post! Yes, TV was our unpaid babysitter! I worry about screen time too. I never let my son use the iPad by himself. I always use it with him. With TV, he miraculously only likes I Love Lucy (He’ll sit and watch it for 20 minutes!). I figure, at least he likes classic TV. 🙂 Do what makes you sane, and quadruple that with love and personal off-screen attention! That’s my formula. And I say this as a children’s librarian, an avid bibliophile. What is the point of limiting screen time if your baby sees you going nuts and isn’t around a happy, well-rested mama? I’d rather have my son watch a little TV and I gain a few moments of sanity so that I can smile and play with three times the energy when the program is over. 🙂 I hope this has helped!


  2. Hi Nelle, really enjoyed reading your post. I guess tv was a third parent for me too 🙂 or, to be specific – tv shows. However my “addiction” started when I was a teenager. But I don’t think that it had a negative impact on my learning results or friendships. Nevertheless, I’m trying to limit the time my kids spend in front of the TV, at least now when they are small. But of course sometimes I use shows or games to calm my 3 y.o. daughter. I know it is the easy way. But it’s working when anything else is not 🙂
    Take care!


    • Thanks for your comment! I just spoke to a new pediatrician about this actually because they (American Pediatric Association) recently changed the guidelines. It seems these guidelines change every couple of years! She was suggesting that if you are using tv in order to help you cook dinner and take care of your other kids (we now have a 6 month old) then it’s fine! Lets banish mom guilt once and for all!



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