Screen Time for Kids: What To Do Instead?

by Angela Grant Cerasaro, MS-CCC, SLP



The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) updated their recommendations for screen time viewing for children last year.

The AAP continues to recommend no or minimal screen time for children under the age of 2, and if screens are used for this age group it should be limited to video chatting with friends and family.  For children aged 2-5, the AAP now recommends no more than 1 hour of screen time per day, and the hour should consist of high quality programming.  Parents should view the content with the child in this age group, to discuss the content and relate it to the world around them.  Previously the AAP limited screen time to 2 hours per day in this age group.

For children 6 and older, the recommendations give more control and discretion, and state that parents should set 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, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health.

All families are recommended to designate media-free times together, such as dinner or driving, as well as media-free locations at home, such as bedrooms.  As children get older, parents should be having ongoing conversations about online safety and treating others with respect online and offline.

These recommendations may seem hard to follow for many parents, but the consequences of screen use are becoming more and more apparent, and include studies that show that children’s brains release a hormone called dopamine when a child is engrossed in an iPad, tablet or similar device, and the hormone is so rewarding, that kids can actually become addicted to screens. Additionally, when they are not on these highly stimulating screens, they can become agitated, and this can lead to behavioral problems.

Specific brain changes have been studied with screen use, such as reduced grey matter, reduced white matter integrity, reduced cortical thickness, impaired cognitive functioning, and the dopamine release noted above.  The frontal lobe, which is responsible for planning, planning, prioritizing, organizing, and impulse control, was specifically affected in these studies.


For children two and older, high-quality media (to be used no more than one hour per day, and to be viewed with an adult if possible) include:

  • e-books and audiobooks
    • StoryNory, a free website with audiobooks for kids
    • iPad app called Epic that is a paid subscription but offers access to 25,000 e-books
    • Amazon Freetime
  • Slow-paced educational shows such as Sesame Street, Daniel Tiger


Alternatives to screen time include:

  • Involving your child/children in everyday tasks, such as cooking and cleaning. While it may take longer for you to do these jobs with a little helper, children learn valuable lessons, responsibility, and actually enjoy doing grown-up activities.
  • Make sure they are getting daily outside time, even in the winter. The key is to dress your child in 2-3 layers, and choose fleece or wool instead of cotton in cold weather.  While outerwear can be expensive, keep your eye out at thrift stores, second hand children stores, and even sites like e-bay and craigslist to buy gently used winter gear.  In the summer, remember to apply sunscreen and keep children hydrated.
  • Allow boredom. Psychologists and other child specialists recognize the importance of boredom to spark creativity and to teach a child to initiate their own activities and play.
  • Reading books. Research shows that both children and adults remember details of what they read on paper better than on a screen.
  • Sensory play: allow kids to get messy, and play with dirt, beans, rocks, play-doh, etc.