“You know your child better than anyone else and are therefore the best person to decide what and how much media use is the right amount,” she said. So, for example, if your child is anxious, avoid the news or a scary video. If your child likes music, find programming that incorporates singing, like a musical with a soundtrack you can listen to later together.
In terms of content, quality matters more than the quantity of time or size of screens being used. This holds true for children of all ages. For younger kids, try to prioritize content developed by reputable sources, like PBS Kids. Organizations such as Common Sense Media offer age-based recommendations for movies, television, books, apps and games and can be good starting places to look for ideas or to learn more about the media your kids are already using. The Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Cincinnati Zoo also offer live cameras that entertain as well as educate and are good distractions for toddlers.
Live cameras also mimic real life at a realistic pace, which has been shown to lessen overstimulation — when developing brains get over-excited by a barrage of sensory experience. For instance, some researchers believe that fast-paced, stimulating shows, like “PJ Masks,” may be more likely to trigger attentional problems in children over the long term than slower paced media that’s more relatable and less distracting, like “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”
Older kids may turn to video games, which many experts say are not associated with violent behavior. Remember that teens playing video games like Fortnite or Overwatch are also maintaining social relationships during a time when face-to-face interactions are limited.
Finally, context — how we interact with our children around the media — matters too. Dr. Radesky encouraged parents to engage with their kids during their screen time. Taking an interest in what your kids are doing will help build their sense of self esteem. Clearly, this won’t be possible if you’re hoping the TV will distract your toddler away from your Zoom conference. In these moments, kids can also connect in real time with friends or other family using apps like Caribu, which allows your child to read a book or color with someone remotely.
When you can, help connect your child’s media use with real-world experiences by asking her questions about what she is learning or watching. For example, Dr. Radesky suggested watching a cooking video and then translating that into an actual cooking activity as a family.
To avoid battles, we recommend establishing and communicating boundaries before your children start using devices, and sticking to those limits as much as possible. Children, especially younger ones, often crave structure, especially during unpredictable times. It’s still good, for instance, for everyone to eliminate screen use for at least one hour or two before bedtime to avoid impacting sleep cycles. If possible, spend some time outside. Research suggests that being outdoors can relieve stress, promote cardiovascular health and protect children from digital eyestrain.