At what age can children watch TV?

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), in a 2016 policy statement, children should not watch TV until they are about 18–24 months of age and even then, screen time should be limited to an hour or less a day of “high quality content” that is “co-viewed” with the parent.

The AAP calls on parents to consider setting limits when it comes to media use to ensure that their children grow up healthy in an evolving digital world. Recognizing that more than 30 percent of U.S. children are introduced to mobile devices while still in diapers and the vast majority will watch TV, the AAP has developed guidelines that promote positive media use and discourage potentially harmful use. 

While each parent must decide what is right for their child, the following strategies may help to limit the negative effects of media use in children:

  • Limit media use. Set a limit (30 minutes a day, for example). Make sure that your children have ample time with parents and caregivers away from devices. Unstructured, media-free playtime is key to the development of creativity of young children.
  • Choose programs (and apps) carefully and interact with your children during the show or game. Do not allow your child to passively view television and videos. Children develop language and cognitive skills by interacting with parents or caregivers. Check reviews of apps before using them. Most apps that can be found in the "educational" section of the app store don't meed the AAP's standards for educational programs.
  • Be aware of advertisements. Educational programs and online apps are interrupted by advertisements. You can choose stations (such as public television stations) that are free of ads, record programs without commercials, buy or rent children’s videos, or purchase handheld electronic learning devices that are made specifically for kids (ideally, after age 2).
  • Don’t choose TV or electronic reading devices over traditional books. Reading aloud to babies increases their future vocabulary and their chance of becoming early and enthusiastic readers themselves. Studies show the more words babies hear read or spoken to them as infants, the greater their vocabulary at age 3. Furthermore, the AAP notes that digital readers often contain distracting visual elements that get in the way of children’s story comprehension.
  • Quality over quantity. Make sure that the media your child views is high quality, and give the “good stuff” high priority. Common Sense Media provides reviews of apps, games, and TV programs that can help parents make good decisions.

Last updated October 18, 2020

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