At What Age Can Children Start Using Screens?

Although there are different positions, in general, experts point out that children should wait until at least age two to start using screens.
At What Age Can Children Start Using Screens?
Maria Fátima Seppi Vinuales

Written and verified by the psychologist Maria Fátima Seppi Vinuales.

Last update: 21 May, 2023

Today, no one dares to question that technology and screens are here to stay. What we must rethink is what use we choose to make of them, especially when it comes to children. So, at what age is it appropriate for children to start using screens? We’ll tell you about it below.

When is it appropriate for my child to start using screens?

There’s no definitive consensus on the age at which children should be exposed to and use screens. Rather, perhaps there’s a gap between recommendations and reality. Therefore, some focus on the appropriate age, while others think of the day-to-day difficulties that arise when it comes to sustaining that limit. Moreover, when we talk about opinions, we think not only about what professionals recommend but also about what happens inside a family.

In general terms, some experts agree that it’s not a good idea for children to start using screens before the age of 2. Rather, screen exposure should be avoided altogether until that age. However, there are also those who argue that they shouldn’t have contact until the age of 6. What’s certain is that educators, psychologists, and pediatricians all agree on the importance of gradualness and accompaniment.

Control time and activity

In this regard, it’s important to recognize that children were born into a world where screens are omnipresent. But their use can’t be left to chance. Therefore, we must establish rules about the time children spend on these devices and the applications or contents they access. It’s also advisable to introduce their use gradually. For example, between the ages of 3 and 5, children should only use screens for a maximum of one hour a day.

Many professionals say that we should try to postpone contact with screens as much as possible. However, it’s also true that devices such as tablets have become allies at school when it comes to teaching certain content. Therefore, preventing them from socializing and having contact with screens would imply that children remain in a kind of digital illiteracy.

A baby boy playing with a laptop computer.
Electronic devices are designed to be attractive and satisfying, so they quickly capture children’s attention.

Why delay the use of screens in children?

The neuropsychologist Álvaro Bilbao, explains in his book “El cerebro de los niños explicado a los padres” (The Brain of Children Explained to Parents), why the use of screens in children should be delayed. There, he mentions the role of the “striatum”, a part of the brain that’s related to tastes, interests, and attention. If there’s a powerful stimulus and the gratification is immediate, then the striatum wants to repeat the same experience.

Therefore, what place is left later for other activities? Like reading, painting, or riding bikes. Perhaps, these are fun, but less powerful practices. For example, learning to ride a bicycle requires coping with falls, while gratification and achievement come later. This is how Bilbao refers that the risk of using screens at an early age is that it discourages curiosity and motivation and focuses attention on a few objects of desire: Tablets, cell phones, and the like.

Finally, Bilbao emphasizes that the early use of screens has an impact on children’s brains. In this regard, it’s responsible for difficulties linked to attention -through Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)- and addictive disorders.

How to regulate the use of technology in children

Here are some tips to accompany children in the use of technology.

Set a good example

It’s important to keep in mind that we’re the main role models for the behavior of our children. For example, if children see us using screens all day long, they’ll believe that this is an appropriate behavior. Therefore, we must be coherent between what we say and what we do.

Keep screens away from certain moments

There are certain moments in which we should do without screens in order to be able to talk, share with the family, or rest. For example, it’s advisable to prohibit the use of devices before sleeping, during meals, or when we do various tasks.

Avoid using screens just because it’s convenient for us

The use of electronic devices should have an educational purpose. When we want to rest, it’s better for children to play a board game, read a story in bed, or go out to play with friends than to offer them a screen.

A young boy lying in bed looking at a tablet screen.
Sometimes, adults are tired and frustrated. However, in order for kids to be good, we need to teach them values and not offer them a mobile device.

Suggest playful alternatives

There are different ways to keep a child entertained. Sometimes, you can suggest that they go outdoors and, other times, you may need them to be more quiet, for example, if you need to finish a report while your child is entertained. Little ones can recreate thousands of games and stories with few elements, but we must encourage them to do so by bringing them alternatives and accessories.

Be realistic with your expectations and what you can ask of children

In childhood, children are in the midst of their development and haven’t yet mastered their emotions. That’s why, sometimes, when they feel frustrated or don’t get what they want, they throw tantrums. And this is logical because there are still areas of the brain that impose themselves over those that achieve self-control.

So, it’s important that we agree on rules with children and that we can be clear and specific about how we’ll act with technology. We can’t expect them to behave like adults with the use of devices if they’re still children.

Raising awareness about when children should start using screens

With all that said, it’s not about creating guilt or a collective panic regarding the use of screens. The objective is to be able to access reliable information based on scientific studies so that we don’t get carried away by myths or comments that aren’t validated. With reliable information, we’ll be able to make better decisions.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Walsh JJ, Barnes JD, Cameron JD, Goldfield GS, Chaput JP, Gunnell KE, Ledoux AA, Zemek RL, Tremblay MS. Associations between 24 hour movement behaviours and global cognition in US children: a cross-sectional observational study. Lancet Child Adolesc Health. 2018 Nov;2(11):783-791. doi: 10.1016/S2352-4642(18)30278-5. Epub 2018 Sep 27. PMID: 30268792; PMCID: PMC6298223.
  • Melamud, Ariel, & Waisman, Ingrid. (2019). Pantallas: discordancias entre las recomendaciones y el uso real. Archivos argentinos de pediatría117(5), 349-351.
  • Bilbao, Alvaro (2015) El cerebro del niño explicado a los padres. Plataforma Actual.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.