How to Limit Screen Time for a 3-Year-Old? – What’s Too Much

Doctors have announced new rules recommending that the amount of screen time for your 3-year old is drastically reduced. They say too much screen time is holding your child back and stunting their development. But how much is too much?

Many parents across the United States have started to enforce screen time limits for their children. I was faced with the same decision as you, how much screen time is harmful? And how can I limit screen time for your 3-year-old?

So, how to limit screen time for a 3-year-old? The AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) suggests that for children aged 2-5 years parents should limit screen use to 1 hour per day1. The best way to limit screen time is to set rules on how much screen time your 3-year-old is allowed per day or week. Be consistent in enforcing these rules and make your children earn their screen time with other healthier activities.

But why are doctors recommending children reduce screen time? I thought as a parent I should be encouraging my child to use technology? And how practically can I reduce screen time for my 3-year-old when technology is constantly surrounding us all?

As you see, I had many difficult questions when I heard the AAP suggested parents should be reducing screen time. So, I decided to collect all the information I could about how to find a good balance between the benefits of screen time and the dangers for my 3-year-old. I found a simple answer that works for both parents and children.

Why is Screen Time so Dangerous?

The use of technology has exploded around us. It’s no longer just the TV. We have cell phones, tablets, and smartwatches. Even fridges have screens built into them now. In my opinion, it’s getting ridiculous. 

Screens have appeared all around us in our daily lives. It is becoming harder to try and limit your 3-year-olds use of them. Even schools are using more electronic-based learning in classrooms. Entertainment is all about watching screens. Gaming, television, social media, Netflix. What can a parent do to protect their 3-year-old from this technological avalanche?

Because of this constant suffocating onslaught of technology. Parents around the country, including me, have started to enforce screen time rules for their kids. They believe that problems of too much screen time are starting to outweigh the benefits for their 3-year-old. Parents need to restore the balance between screens and healthy childhood.

The purpose of making screen time rules is to enforce a balance between my 3-year-old’s enjoyment of technology and their natural social interactions and creative play. I believe that balance is vital for your 3-year-old to develop physically and mentally.

survey taken in 2017 of Silicon Valley parents found that many of them had serious concerns about technologies’ impact on their children’s psychological and social development.

So, even the people producing this technology are worried about screen time for their kids? I don’t think you could have a clearer warning.

How to Limit Screen Time for Your 3-Year-Old

Limiting screen time has never been more important.

Children across the country are becoming addicted to their screens. Kids are drowning in a pool of electronic entertainment and spending less time having vital social interactions and getting the physical activity that they need.

If you enforce rules for screen time in your home you are teaching your children to have life balance and regulate their impulses. They can have more of those social interactions that are so important and entertain themselves with creative play.

Re-connecting with your 3-year-old with more conversation, play, and physical activity has been a joy for me. I can see now how excess screen time can rob my family of these beautiful moments.

It’s time for you to cut down their screen time and get the same enjoyment I have experienced. What I thought would be moments of boredom without amusing tech gadgets for my 3-year-old have turned into us bonding and feeling comfortable just being together, enjoying each other’s company.

Make “Screen-Free” Areas

Keep TVs, tablets, and any other screens out of your child’s bedrooms. Having screens only in shared rooms will allow you to monitor how much screen time they have each day closely.

Having a TV in a child’s bedroom can interfere with their sleep. Keep their bedrooms for sleeping and relaxing only and you will notice a positive difference in your 3-year-old’s sleep.

Introduce a Screen Time Routine for Your 3-Year-Old

As a child, I used to get in from school, throw my bag on the table and jump onto the couch and turn on the TV. I used to dread the sound of my mom’s voice telling me to turn it off. I knew I had a list of chores to do before I was allowed to watch it. 

Simple household chores, then finish my homework, and finally, go outside and play. We were allowed to watch TV only when we’d done all those things, after dinner and just before bed.

I didn’t understand why my mom was being so cruel. Now I have thanked her plenty of times for giving me that structure to my evenings and making sure I learned all the life skills that given me so much happiness and success.

Inspired by my mom, I have made my own list of activities for my little ones to complete before they get to sit down in front of a screen. It’s not all chores, I don’t want my kids slaving away all evening, but I do want them to learn valuable life skills like independence and social interaction.

Heres my list:

  • Tidy bedroom
  • Read 5 short books with a parent
  • One daily chore
  • Play outside for at least 1 hour
  • Play with toys for at least 1 hour
  • Talk with a parent
  • Learn about what we are cooking for dinner
  • Play with siblings or friends

After my 3-year-old has completed everything on the list, I don’t feel as guilty letting them use a screen such as watching TV or using a tablet or phone for up to one-hour maximum.

Using Screen Time Tracking Apps on Phones and Tablets

If your 3-year-old uses your phone or tablet, it’s a great idea to install a screen time tracking app on it. These little apps monitor how much time your little one has spent using the device and can lock the phone or tablet when their time is up. 

I use an app on our cellphones and tablet to prevent my 3-year-old from having too much screen time. I set it for one hour when I give it to them so I know they won’t go over the recommended time.

Screen time regulation apps:

Those are the best apps that I have found to limit my child’s screen time and make sure they don’t access any inappropriate content.

The Dangers of too Much Screen Time for Your 3-Year-Old

It’s up to you as their parent to decide how much screen time your child gets per day. You need to make sure that your 3-year-old has enough time for valuable activities such as eating healthily, reading, creativity, social interactions, and physical activity.

If you don’t limit your 3-year-olds screen time. These are some of the negative impacts on their health you may see:

  • Increased chance of being overweight. Screen time is mostly time sitting still. Whereas children in the past would have been up and moving around more. Today’s 3-year-olds are spending more time sitting still playing on screens than ever before. They are doing less physical activity and creative play.
  • Sleeping issues. The blue light emitted from screens has an effect on your 3-year-old’s natural sleeping pattern. Making the body more alert later into the evening and even into the night. Meaning they will have restless sleep. Consider using a blue light filter app if your child uses screens regularly (Here’s a handy guide for setting a blue light filter on iPhone/Android/PC).
  • Increased possibility of developing mental health issues. Excessive screen use can affect your child’s attention span. Also, lack of social interaction can lead to other mental health issues in the future. Because your 3-year-old is missing out on learning vital social skills.
  • Developmental delays. If your 3-year-old is spending too much time using screens they might suffer from developmental delays. At 3-years-old your child is going through an important stage in their mental development. Their brain needs the right teaching to help it form healthy habits.

Warning Signs of too much Screen Time Every Parent Should Know

If your child is spending too much time with screens negative behaviors will start to develop. Excessive screen time could be destroying a healthy balance of development and activities in your 3-year-old’s life.

Here are some of the signs your 3-year-old might be developing an unhealthy screen time habit:

  • Disobeys screen time rules
  • Tries to sneak screen time in when parents aren’t watching
  • Becomes angry/agitated when interrupted from their screen time
  • They become irritable when their screen time as ended
  • Prefers screen time to play, books, and socializing with friends/siblings
  • Loses interest in activities they have previously enjoyed
  • They become less interested in being physically active

If this sounds familiar for your 3-year-old then it’s time to start enforcing rules around screen time in your house before it’s too late.

Encourage Your Family to be Less Screen Focused with These Fun Activities

In our technology-obsessed world, a break from screens for the whole family can be a positive and life-changing experience. I know in my family we have reduced the amount we all use screens, including me! (I know I use my phone too much).

Since we have all made the effort to spend less time on screens, I’ve felt our family has bonded more. We have laughed and joked more, cooked together, and even grown more comfortable with a bit of relaxing silence. It’s important to realize how much of a role model you are to your children.

Here are some examples of fun screen-free activities for the whole family to enjoy:

  • Bowling
  • A walk to the park
  • Nature hike – See how many animals you can spot
  • Swimming
  • Camping
  • Board games
  • Card games
  • Craft night
  • Go fishing
  • Gardening
  • Bike rides
  • Cook and bake together
  • Go camping
  • Fly a kite
  • Play sports
  • Visit the zoo
  • Play crazy golf
  • Go on a treasure hunt
  • Visit the beach
  • Visit a museum

I haven’t missed screens as much and neither has my 3-year-old because we always have other activities to occupy us. Even over a short period of reducing screen time I have seen a drop in my child’s irritability and an increase in their attention span. They seem happier with less screen time.

How to Take Back Their Creativity and Physical Fitness From Screen Time

According to the WHO (World Health Organization), 3-year-olds should not be sat still for more than 1 hour at a time3.

The National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) guidelines for preschoolers recommend 120 minutes of physical activity daily.

They recommend that this physical activity should be:

  • At least 30 minutes of structures adult-led play.
  • At least 60 minutes of unstructured child-led play.

3-year-olds shouldn’t be inactive for more than one hour at a time. Play may look pointless to us as parents but your 3-year-old is learning important physical and creative skills. Skills such as coordination, muscle control, balance, and creativity. The skills your child learns through creative play are vital for their future success in life.

These skills combine to build a solid foundation. They can progress from simple skills learned through play to complicated physical skills and creative thinking. How can your child jump rope if they haven’t learned to jump yet? How can your child learn to play football if they haven’t practiced throwing?.

3-year-olds need to develop their attention span because mastering a new skill takes time. They need some motivation to help them push through the difficult parts of learning a new skill. We need to limit pointless drains on their attention, like screens.

By 3-years-old your toddler should have had time to develop the following skills:

  • Throw a ball into the air
  • Climbing well
  • Running well
  • Kick a ball
  • Pedals a tricycle
  • Balances on one foot for a few seconds
  • Bends over without falling

By 3-years-old your toddler should also have an active imagination and show signs that they can be creative through art, dance, and music.

Related Questions

When is the best time to allow my 3-year-old their screen time? The ideal time to let your 3-year-old have their screen time is around dinner. If they have finished their list of activities and chores they can be allowed limited screen time. The time before dinner is perfect because it gives your 3-year-old an incentive to stop when dinner is ready and it’s not too late in the day for the blue light from the screen to affect their sleep.

When should I start enforcing screen time rules? Right away, but don’t do it without discussing it with your 3-year-old first. Have a family meeting and decide the rules together. Then keep a copy of these rules posted in the house somewhere everyone can see them. Involve yourself in some of the rules to show that they are fair and apply to everyone.

Aren’t educational apps ok? No, even educational apps should not be used more than 1-hour maximum per day. Educational apps seem like a positive way for your little one to use screen time. They do have their benefits but spending time on an app means your 3-year-old misses out on learning important social skills. These are also essential for their development.

If you are stuck thinking of ways you can entertain your 3-year-old without resorting to technology, take a look at our fun article 11 Games That Your 3 Year Old Will Actually Enjoy. It’s a list of games and activities that our 3-year-old’s absolutely love and beg us to play! And not one of them involves using a screen.

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