Phones and television are part of our daily lives and, at some point, will become a part of your child’s life as well. It’s a fact. We’re past the phase where we discuss if this technology is good or bad. Today, we know it’ll be a part of almost everything we do. But, when it comes to small children, what is the safe limit of how many cartoons and shows they can watch, without hindering their development? Studies show what we already knew: too much exposure to tablets, TVs, smartphones and video games is not good for your health. It’s still hard to tell as health organizations struggle to adjust their recommendations based on new studies.

Currently, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that babies up to two years old not have access to any kind of screen. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Brazilian Pediatric Society, which usually provide information directly to pediatricians, say that the best thing to do is to not give children younger than 18 months any exposure to any type of screen – of course we’re talking about recreational use and not the occasional video phone call with the grandparents. And, they also suggest that, between one and five years of age, the use of such gadgets should be limited to at maximum one hour per day, with breaks every 20 minutes. After they turn six, ideally they should not spend more than two hours with the devices.

Always seek screens as a last resort – offer pieces of paper and crayons, a good book or even games like hide and seek before offering technology. Save it for desperate times: a dinner at a restaurant, when you need to focus on making lunch, those five minutes it takes to answer an urgent work email, a car ride…Don’t blame yourself if you need to turn to screens to help you out: every parent has been saved by these tools. The most important part, besides monitoring the amount of time your child spends online, is to also monitor what type of content they’re interacting with and ensuring it’s appropriate for their age.

Why are phones and TVs so dangerous?

There are a couple of reasons why experts tell you to exercise caution with screens:

  • Obesity: Currently, there is an epidemic of childhood obesity around the world and children need to use up their energy being active.
  • Vision: Excessive use could lead to early onset nearsightedness
  • Bad or broken sleep: The use of screens at nighttime negatively affects the quality of sleep, as it decreases the production of melatonin, the hormone associated with sleep. It’s worth avoiding smartphones, tablets and TVs for at least one hour before putting your kid to bed.
  • Intelligence: A study in Canada showed children who were more exposed to screens ended up showing a bigger deficit in learning in school.
  • Communication: Until they turn two, the baby’s brain is working nonstop, 24/7, producing up to 700 synapses per second so as to develop their physical and cognitive abilities. In order for this to happen in the best way possible, especially when it comes to non-verbal communication, the baby needs contact, connection and interaction with another person. Studies show that the more time exposed to a screen, the higher the probability of the child developing speech issues.