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I'll preface this question with the fact that my wife and I followed best practices for the first 18 months or so of our son's life - no screen time. I've heard both 18 and 24 months being the earliest time to introduce TV, but in practice we ended up introducing it to our son gradually between that period.

But now we seem to have opened Pandora's box and can't really de-introduce it, so I'm wondering what best practices might look like for scheduling it into our regular routine.

If I recall correctly, at this age we should likely aim for less than thirty minutes per day, but my question surrounds whether it might be best to have a common 'TV Time' each day, or let him watch in bits in pieces.

Generally we watch Youtube, and keep to educational videos, or videos of 'real-life' things. And what we're finding is that our boy is becoming interested in seeing the real-life version of his toys on TV.

The problem comes in that there doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to when we do or don't allow him to watch TV. Sometimes we're tired and just give in, sometimes he really wants to see something specific and we let him do so, other times we say no. But there is no real orderliness to it.

I've heard the phrase 'no means no' with a toddler, but lately I can't help but wonder if it may sometimes be a positive to let him exert a little power, and give in as it were, when he is really passionate about seeing something on TV. Obviously what we want to avoid is him watching TV all the time.

Is there any guideline that we may be able to start following?

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The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends keeping all screens off around babies and toddlers younger than 18 months. They say a little screen time can be okay for older toddlers, and children 2 years and older should get no more than an hour of screen time per day.

In your case, it might preferable to keep screen time minimal, and yes you are correct to say the time limit should be around 30 minutes. If he wants to watch something, you can let him, but make sure he does not go off watching something else or watching for too long.

It is recommended online that parents should watch with their child as well. A article about this can be found here.

Is there any guideline that we may be able to start following?

Not really, best is to stick with daily screen time. And try not to give in to your child too much as well, this can lead to "abuse of your carefreeness" - child can realise that if he pesters you more, that he can win. But as you have mentioned, yes, it is sometimes better to give in a little, but always try to keep it under control.

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I can tell you how we do it: We only watch stuff either on YouTube or from DVD, no TV in this household. And we only watch together. Either my son (3 years old) with mum or dad or both, but never alone. It probably never occurred to him (yet) that he could watch alone. We pick the films together, and we agree on (or better say, we parents determine an upper bound) how many such films can be watched BEFORE starting to watch. Usually one film is about 10minutes. Sometimes he can have one more (but not if he has already watched 3), but he knows this is an exception.

On special occasions, like Christmas, we watch a longer film (45min).

We do not watch daily; on average it is 2 times a week. But this is mainly because he seldom asks. More often dad asks him if he wants to watch something, and then he usually says yes. If he asked more often, I'd go with only one film (10-15min) a day, or skip a day to earn two films in a row.

Edit: I forgot to mention the most important thing: explanation of the rule!

As an explanation to my child why we do not allow more watching, we tell him that watching too much makes him dumb. We explain "dumb" as having a hard time learning/remembering/understanding things, which will make life very hard for the dumb person. (We give examples, like: not being able to remember what needs to be done when one needs to go to toilet, resulting in accidents and wet clothes; or not remembering the names of the kindergarten teachers, making it hard to ask them something. Stuff that he can relate to, that he perceives as problems.) And that we do not want him to have a hard life.

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To me, the most important thing is that you don't let the toddler associate screen time with "reward". We made that mistake, and it definitely backfired. Making something a reward makes them want it more...

Instead, I suggest the approach of having certain things be "available". This is used for example in Montessori, where there is a selection of things the child may choose from which is curated - always a selection, but never everything they possibly could do. It's curated based on making sure they get a variety of stimuli, and are exposed to as much as possible, while still giving them control over what they do.

Giving them the choice though is definitely a positive in my view - children who are used to exploring choices are more independent, at least from my sample size of 2 (and there is quite a lot of literature out there, Raising an Adult for example). This approach goes well with the "available" concept - make watching screens a choice they can make at certain times, but it's only available for a while, and then they must move on. If they ask for more, let them know it's not available right now, but XYZ is.

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  • Valuable answer, +1. Very often screen time is used to reward a desired behavior. I did this at times, and I’ve seen it done a lot. Although I never put it together quite like you have, I think you’re right. Love the options approach. May 27, 2022 at 10:22

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