Screen Time for Toddlers

Screen time can be such a touchy subject. There are so many ideas on what is best for children when it comes to using screens. This is yet another subject, like most parenting subjects, that should be taken as one family’s way of doing things, and it may not be what’s right for you and your family. We all have to make adjustments to every suggestion to make it fit in our lives. And my views on this have changed as my children have gotten older as well.

Screen Time Defined

First of all, what is considered screen time? Do you consider a child working on homework online as part of their screen time? What about if they are reading on a kindle?

screen time
  1. time spent using a device such as a computer, television, or games console.

The official definition is very loose. If you look at that, then doing anything on any device with a screen counts. Although my children are too young to have homework yet, I personally would not count that as part of their screen time. Homework is part of their job as a student, so it is something necessary for them to do. But then where do we draw the line on education apps? If they are doing something educational, does that count as screen time? It isn’t required, but they are still learning. The first step to deciding how to handle screen time is to define what you consider screen time for them.

Personal Devices

We all have our personal devices. My husband and I both have our phones, our laptops, he has an iPad, I have my Kindle Paperwhite. Tyler has a Kindle Fire and Ryan will be getting one soon for his second birthday. Technology is everywhere in our lives right now, so there’s no need to fight it altogether. Before I became a parent, I said my kids won’t have that kind of thing. I didn’t when I was growing up….. But when I was growing up it wasn’t an option. Tyler does a lot of learning apps on his Kindle, and I feel like he has learned a lot from it.

Kindle Fire

When we were deciding what type of tablet to get Tyler for his birthday, we looked through all the options and settled on the Kindle Fire. We did not get the kids version for Tyler, but Ryan will be getting it. Tyler is a little better with his things than Ryan is, so we figured the extra warranty was better for Ryan. The deciding factor for the Kindle Fire was the parental controls. It comes built-in with the ability to control the amount of time they are on, what they can do, what time the Kindle turns on and off for the day, and limits actual browsing. We already have Amazon Prime, so we do the Unlimited Free Time which gives them access to hundreds of child-appropriate apps. I don’t have to worry about what he is doing, and the price for it was extremely reasonable.


Besides the much higher cost of an iPad, we turned away from this (even though we are Apple people) because of the lack of parental controls. I don’t want Tyler to have free access to the internet. I didn’t want him to be able to download apps, if even on accident, that I don’t know about. We have our iPad, and I use it mostly when I am cooking, and the boys have played on it before. But I don’t feel like I could just hand it to one of them and let them run off with it.


While the Kindle Fire is set to only be on for one hour per day, we are much more lenient with the tv here. There are only two tvs in our house, in the living room and in the playroom. The boys don’t have cable, just an Amazon Fire Stick attached to their tv to stream Prime and Netflix. Recently we had to implement a system for who gets to choose which show we watch, so Tyler gets Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Ryan gets to pick the show on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Then we have decided that, unless it’s football season, the tv stays off on Sundays to give everyone a break.

In addition to the one day off from television, we have started a time frame as well. Usually we are up in the morning anytime from 7-7:30. We get breakfast together and get ready for the day. The tv is not allowed to be on until 9am. This gives us all a little down time in the morning before we start with the extra stimulation. Sometimes Tyler will wake up and grab his Kindle to watch, but he is still limited to one hour per day, no matter what time he watches. In the evening, the tv (and all devices) are off at 6pm. The boys go to bed at 7, so this gives them some time without the screen stimulation before bed. We use this time to read, play with other toys, get baths, and the rest of the bedtime routine.

Yes, this seems like a long time for the tv to be on, but my boys usually don’t just sit and watch. They like it more as a background when they are playing. Every now and then they will look up and watch for a few minutes, but then the go back to playing with their trains, construction trucks, legos, or whatever other non-electronic toy they are playing with. If they just sat there like zombies and watched all day, then their tv time would be drastically shorter. Again, this is where you need to adjust depending on your family and your circumstances.

Incentive/Reward Systems

“Tyler, if you don’t do ______, you don’t get your Kindle tomorrow.” Yep, that’s been said many times in our home. Usually it happens at night when we are fighting bedtime. And often comes with no tv as well, although that punishes both boys for something only one did. Tyler has learned that his Kindle is a privilege. It’s been a long time now since he’s had it taken away, but it’s always an option. And for him, it’s a really good incentive too. It’s only an hour a day (because of the parental controls), but he enjoys that hour to do whatever games he wants, or watch any of his shows.

Another option I’ve heard of parents doing is to earn your screen time. Use monopoly money or other fake money to denote amounts of screen time. If they are caught doing something good, or going above and beyond in their chores or helping others, then they get their screen time money to cash in when they want extra screen time. We don’t implement this right now, but may when the boys are a little older. They would still have to follow the rules of what time screens can be on in the morning and when they need to be off at night time though. And my biggest rule is nothing during dinner. Dinner is family time, we don’t have the tv or anything else on.

So now I am curious, what are your thoughts on screen time? What kind of limits do you impose for your children? What works best for you and your family?

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