Laura de Medici-Bentley: Screen time: It’s all about balancing it out

Laura de Medici-Bentley

It’s an ongoing debate: how much “screen time” is too much? The American Association of Pediatricians recommends no screen time for children under the age of 2. Every parent I know, including myself, has broken that rule several times.

In my opinion, there isn’t really a reason for kids under 1 year old to have screen time. Recently, I saw an ad for a bouncy seat with an iPad holder attachment and I couldn’t wrap my mind around it.

I remember the easy days when Livia was still young enough to be in a bouncy seat. There was no need for an iPad. When I had to shower or get dressed, she was content playing with whatever “mystery item” I would give her. Her favorite things to play with were my large, plastic curlers and my “flexi-rods” (foamy sticks that you twist around your hair). She was easily amused by simple toys, books and household items. I think I avoided screen time because I wanted her to be “easily” amused for as long as possible.

For her first year, when we were at our house, the TV stayed off and she didn’t use a phone or iPad. When she was visiting her grandparents, however, I was more laid back. If they were excited to watch Sesame Street or some other children’s show with her, I felt like it would be rude to get on my soapbox about TV at a young age.

A few months after Livia started walking, things changed. The ages 15-20 months were the most challenging for me. She was always on the move and ready to explore, but her attention span was very short, so nothing could hold her attention for long (other than pouring water or beans, which isn’t the most portable activity).

It was around that age that I decided to try some educational games and videos. First, I looked up “Italian apps” for toddlers. I figured if she was going to have some “screen time,” she might as well practice her Italian while doing so. I found one app that teaches a wide variety of words and “quizzes” the child with interactive games. To this day, it’s Livia’s favorite app.

A friend of mine also introduced me to the “PBS Kids” app. There are about 20 children’s shows to choose from. When Livia first got her hands on my phone, she couldn’t get enough. She quickly learned the word “video!” and asked for it all the time. She even started grabbing my phone and finding the app by herself.

I did not want the video-watching to spiral out of control, so I decided the best approach was to choose certain times of day when watching videos could be acceptable. She may watch a video while I’m getting dressed or showering, but the morning — all the way to lunch time — is when we spend the most time outside, we go to the library, or we are inside busily playing with her kitchen. Right after nap time, I let her have some screen time on my phone. She knows how to choose her own shows, choose episodes, and I’ve caught her ignoring incoming calls so her show won’t be interrupted. When it’s time for some afternoon outside time, though, Livia gladly puts down the phone.

Even though videos and games are a great distraction, the key is not to rely on them as a crutch. With or without the phone, she needs to learn to self-soothe, and I don’t want her missing out on the world around her. For example, I used to give my phone to Livia during grocery shopping, but I stopped because I wanted her to understand that she needed to sit in the cart regardless. Also, the grocery store is a great place for learning — I love talking to Livia about the different food we see. I even started letting her pick out a few items. She loves choosing her own grapes.

Nowadays, she doesn’t even ask for my phone in the store. I also only use it as a “last resort” in restaurants. If we’ve been waiting a long time for food and if she is tired of coloring, I don’t feel bad about using my phone to provide a brief distraction.

Are there days when she has more screen-time than I’d like to admit? Absolutely. There are also days where she doesn’t have any screen time. It’s all about balancing it out. If I think a day has been too “screen-heavy,” I balance it out by reading several more bedtime stories. We fit in 20-30 extra minutes of pretend-play before bed, or we get some more outside time. The key is moderation.

Laura de Medici-Bentley, of Winchester Virginia, is a former early childhood educator who currently enjoys staying home with her 2-year-old daughter. She is an author of a personal blog, She can be reached at