Making the most of limited screen time
March 30, 2019
Making the most of limited screen time

    Does your preschooler love to be in front of a screen? Many do, so you’re certainly not alone. When it comes to screen time, parents are faced with two separate but related challenges – 1) appropriately limiting the amount of time your child spends watching television or videos and 2) managing the types of programs your child is watching. Pediatrician, mom and former educator, Bergen Nelson, MD, offers some tips on finding the right balance for your family.

    Although children’s programs seem pretty basic, many are backed by research and expertise on how to entertain and educate preschoolers at the same time. PBS KIDS does an excellent job of engaging children in a way that sparks their curiosity and teaches important lessons. Here are some elements that you’ll identify in high-quality shows, along with a few examples of shows that exhibit them:

    • Constructive ways to solve problems

    Preschoolers are just learning to deal with their strong emotions, including anger, frustration and jealousy. Characters in programs such as Clifford the Big Red Dog and Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood face situations where they have to resolve differences, share and learn other key social skills necessary for school and for life.

    • Fostering a love of learning

    Television programs can help demonstrate and reinforce academic skills, as well as shape overall positive attitudes about learning. Dinosaur Train builds off of children’s love for trains and dinosaurs to promote critical thinking skills, while Curious George inspires children to explore science, engineering and math in the world around them.

    • Exhibiting differences

    It’s never too early to introduce children to characters, traditions and views that are different from what they may experience with your family on a regular basis. Maya and Miguelintroduces viewers to characters who use different languages for communication, including English, Spanish and American Sign Language. Sesame Street builds on a decades-long foundation of developing social skills and respecting people’s differences. Multiethnic, multigenerational and even multispecies characters on this special street teach children that everyone brings a unique ability to the community.

    • Positive repetition

    Preschoolers are notorious for repeating what they see and hear. Why not use their limited screen time to expose them to activities worth repeating? Super Why!’s emphasis on letter recognition, and the teamwork and creative thinking approaches to solving problems in Pinkalicious and Peterrific are two examples of positive actions that your child can learn from and practice when they’re away from the television or tablet.

    • Time for thinking and processing

    Much of the video content geared toward kids is very fast-paced, with almost video game or music video quality in terms of the quick transitions and music. Quality educational programming includes long pauses for children’s brains to be able to process a question or idea. Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood is a great example of a program that gives viewers a chance to think and respond to a situation before moving on to the next idea.

    • Humor that appeals to children and parents

    Although it can be difficult with today’s busy and fast-paced schedules, it’s a good idea to watch programs with your child when possible. This allows you to keep tabs on what they’re seeing and hearing, as well as lends an opportunity to discuss and build upon learning opportunities. You’ll be more likely to watch with your child if the show includes humor for the whole family. Alistair Cookie’s “Monsterpiece Theater” on Sesame Street is a great example of a show that appeals to viewers of all ages. When you’re watching with your preschooler, you can make it an active experience rather than a passive one. Incorporate games to focus on skills such as listening for certain words/sounds, moving/dancing to music or practicing letter/number recognition.

    Find content related to all of these trusted PBS KIDS programs at, including on-demand programming, interactive games and printables. To stay in-the-know about programs, events and outreach in the community, subscribe to the PBS KIDS Ready To Learn enewsletter at

    While pediatricians will continue to recommend limiting screen time, there are some benefits to quality programming. The following recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics can be a helpful guide for when and how to include media in your child’s routine:

    • Avoid the use of screen media (other than video-chatting) with children under the age of 18 months.
    • When introducing media to children after the age of 18 months, choose high-quality programming and watch with your child to help them understand what they’re seeing.
    • For children ages 2 to 5 years, limit screen use to one hour per day of high-quality programs. Watch with them to help them understand what they are seeing and how to apply it to the world around them.
    • With older children, set consistent limits on the amount and types of media you allow.
    • Designate media-free times together, as well as media-free locations at home, such as bedrooms.

    You can read reviews of shows and even view them in advance to find the ones that are most appropriate for your child’s age and stage of development. Keep a watchful eye out for violence, as violent content has no place for kids of any age and can lead to harmful thoughts and behaviors.

    Remember not to let TV time get in the way of adequate sleep, time spent with family or engagement in active play. Nothing can replace uninterrupted time with a parent or guardian, playing with peers or exploring the environment.

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