A child psychologist offers an age-specific guide to guide the use of technology by children from birth to age 17.
For many years, electronic devices have continued to spread. Parents and caregivers are therefore right to be concerned about the number of time children spend on it, the type of content they view, and the potential risks associated with both. Even so, very few science-based guidelines really define the healthy or unhealthy use of these devices, with many proving contradictory.
The main reason for this confusion is a simple fact that each child, culture, or circumstance is unique. And not all screen times are created equal. In fact, many recommendations have been changed to reflect the length of time – at least as long as recommended – that many children spend in front of screens during their school day. Either way, one thing is clear: It is unrealistic to follow a one-size-fits-all approach for all children and adolescents regarding the maximum duration of device use.
… it is unrealistic to follow a one-size-fits-all approach for all children and adolescents.
There are many factors that I consider when helping my clients set healthy expectations and boundaries for their children. There are a few general recommendations that make sense for those in specific age groups (see American Academy of Pediatrics or AAP guidelines, updated 2016), but it is essential to study their propensity to use electronic devices and digital media.
Thus, some of them reach a degree of responsibility and maturity sufficient to use a smartphone safely before 13 years – note that some of the big names in the tech sector have allowed theirs to have devices connected to the Internet only. at age 14 – while others will only be able to do so much later, in their teenage years.
Parents should take this level of development and their children’s general behavior into consideration when deciding on the appropriate age for accessing things such as a smartphone and social media.
In addition, it is important that parents consider their own attitudes. They must analyze their level of propensity to devote time to monitoring their children’s online activity and to talk with them about the use of electronic devices, prudent behaviors to adopt on the Internet…
I advise them not to simply postpone devices to their children in the hope that they know how to navigate the world of digital media. Parental control software is also a big help. I recommend them to parents. However, these programs should not prevent dialogue. Children can choose what topics to discuss, but it’s up to parents to start the conversation.
Born in the digital world, today’s children are often aware of technology, but certain risks escape them: cyberbullying, cyber predation, child trapping … Often, they do not really understand that the material published on the Internet will stay there forever.
Things that can reduce their chances of getting to the university of their choice, or even of getting a job, or depress them because of the harm they have caused to others. Having access to everyone is no easy task. Children of all ages need guidance and ongoing support in order to learn to take in their digital experiences and develop healthy and safe digital habits.
Having access to everyone is no easy task.
That being said, here are my recommendations for various age groups, based on current research and my clinical experience:
Electronic devices should be banned from the bedroom at night. Not only does their light delay falling asleep, but they also reduce the number of sleep children’s needs.
Meals should be times without a device. Research shows that this approach supports healthier eating and strengthens communication and family bonds.
Take a screen-free break after 30-60 minutes of use to protect eye health, vision, and brain function.
From birth to age 4
Parents need to drastically limit their children’s exposure to electronic devices and digital media. If so, they should not leave them alone.
The APP recommends banning electronic devices for children under 18 months of age, except for video chatting with family members, and staying with children 18-24 months of age when they are watching or using a screen, as parent/caregiver involvement is essential to their good brain development. See toys’ ideas for toddlers instead. Check what we recommend for you to buy as gifts for 3 to 4 years old kids.
Children 2-4 years old should spend no more than one hour per day in front of a screen and watch only quality programs suited to their developing brains. E-books or interactive books may be appropriate for a limited time, with a parent/caregiver present to read them. And beware: some children’s programs have been shown to have no benefit or even harm. Do you remember Baby Einstein, if not? What do we recommend for those children below 5 years old:
From 5 to 8 years old
You should not spend more than 2 hours a day in front of a screen outside of school. Parents should prefer fun, sports, and family activities without screens to the use of electronic devices. Read also gifts to give to 5 years old kids.
It is strongly recommended to favor use with and without parents/caregivers.
It is best to watch quality programs that are primarily educational in nature.
Access to social media is inappropriate for children of this age group.
The same goes for smartphones. You may like to read: 6 years old changes.
9 to 11 years old
Activities without a screen are preferable to activities with a screen, access to which must be granted under certain conditions (for example, after having fulfilled a specific obligation – sport, household chores, hobbies, social commitment, homework, etc.).
Moreover, experts have long advocated limiting this duration to 2 hours per day, but this recommendation does not apply to all children and it is generally more beneficial to perform other daily activities before spending time. free on devices.
Access to social media is inappropriate for children of this age group.
The same goes for smartphones. If a child needs to use a phone for safety reasons, a simple clamshell model is enough to make calls.
12 to 14 years old
Continue to favor device-less activities, allowing screens only when other more important activities and responsibilities have been fulfilled.
Consider having access to a smartphone with strict limits for children of this age group possibly, but absolutely establish their propensity and yours to handle this situation in a careful and responsible manner. Here are some questions that should help you:
○ Does your child tend to lose his things? Does he take care of it?
○ Does your child generally follow the rules and set expectations? Does he violate or disappoint them often?
○ Is your child trustworthy?
○ Is your child coping well with obligations such as homework, household chores, or other responsibilities?
○ Has your child ever exhibited unsafe or inappropriate behavior related to electronic devices or digital media at home, at school or in the home of others?
○ Are you ready to set rules, constantly enforce them by your child, and inflict consequences for their device-related behavior?
○ Is your child willing to sign a contract/agreement detailing the rules for using electronic devices and digital media?
○ Do you agree to use parental control features, regularly monitor your child’s use of devices and social media, and engage in conversation with them about the pages they visit and people with whom does he communicate?
Access to social media, many of which have restrictions covering this age group, should be severely restricted. In addition, parents should closely monitor and control their children in order to show them healthy and appropriate habits in online behavior and communication.
15 to 17 years old
Continue to favor device-less activities, allowing screens only when other more important activities and tasks have been completed.
Teenagers in this age group can use a smartphone as long as they show the necessary level of responsibility and propensity. The questions above should help you make sure.
Access to social media with parental controls is generally suitable for this age group, as responsible teens deserve more freedom within healthy boundaries. Parents, on the other hand, should actively demonstrate and enforce safe and appropriate behavior online.
It is important to ensure consistent communication with children of this age regarding the pages they visit on the Internet, the people with whom they communicate, and the experiences they have in order to protect their health and their safety.
Parents should regularly discuss and dictate good habits to adopt when using devices while driving for teenagers who are already licensed to drive.
Electronic devices and digital media are important and necessary in the lives of children and adolescents today, but they need our help to identify dangers and set limits.
Appropriate rules, continuous monitoring, and permanent communication allow them to develop healthy and prudent behavior essential to foster their digital resilience and navigate an increasingly connected world.