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Beyond the Recommended Limit: 10 Signs Your Toddler Watches Too Much TV

Reading time: 10 minutes
Written by
| Updated on
March 25, 2024
Reviewed by parenting expert
signs toddler watches too much tv

What you’ll learn

Discover 10 signs toddler watches too much TV. Learn to identify screen time excess and promote healthier habits!

Screens are an integral part of modern life. From the useful tools on phones and computers to the entertainment of television, screen time has become normal for all ages. However, too much television (including passive videos on phones and tablets) can cause problems for little ones. Young children develop best when they are constantly engaging with the world around them. Caregivers should be attentive to both what their toddlers are watching and how much time they are spending in front of a screen.

This article will explore how to identify 10 signs toddler watches too much tv and how to carefully permit screen time without the risk of development or behavior problems that can come with it.

Understanding Screen Time Guidelines for Toddlers

What are the signs a toddler watches too much television? How much tv should a toddler watch? How to keep toddler busy without tv? These are important questions for any parent to ask.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), children between 2 and 5 years old should watch no more than 1 hour of non-educational television per weekday and no more than 3 hours of television on weekends. They can also watch educational programs along with a caregiver who will interact and talk with them about what they are learning.

Parents should be actively aware of their child’s TV viewing habits due to the risk that excessive TV can pose for physical and cognitive development. According to the Cureus Journal of Medical Science, signs a toddler watches too much tv include long-term delays in children’s speech, language, motor skills, executive (decision-making) skills, and social development. It can also ultimately affect academic outcomes.

For healthy children, tv shows, smartphones, and video games should not be used as a babysitter. Instead, children should engage with their caregivers and explore play away from screens for age-appropriate development. It’s important to identify too much screen time symptoms in toddlers.

👉 Find out why TV shouldn’t be a babysitter. Discover key strategies in this article: ‘Should Parents Limit Screen Time? How to Avoid Turning Screens into “the Babysitter”, in 3 steps’. Read now!

mom sitting on the sofa and toddler watching tv

Credit: Pexels

Common Signs Toddler Watches Too Much TV – Is Your Toddler Addicted To TV?

Parents often share screen time with their children and allow their kids to watch their favorite shows each day. It can be a joy to see your toddler dancing, singing, and shouting out the answers to educational programming. However, it’s also important to watch for the signs that your toddler watches too much tv. These signs can tell you that your child’s screen time has started to impact their health and progress through child development stages appropriate for their age.

Too much screen time symptoms in toddlers will generally follow these developmental concerns.

1. Frequent Tantrums and Irritability

Have you ever roused from a television marathon to find yourself out of sorts? You might have been moody, cranky, and in need of real sleep. The same negative affects are true for your toddlers, only they don’t know why or how to control the emotions. Excessive tv watching can contribute to increased irritability and tantrums in toddlers. 

Screen time has a strong link to emotional regulation in young children. Kids learn to understand and control their emotions through interactions with others, but screen time is passive, and they can get moody without knowing why they are sad and upset.

2. Decline in Physical Activity

Toddlers are supposed to be highly active. They run, play, and explore to sate their endless curiosity about the world. This keeps them phsyically active and developing their sensorimotor skills with every game and adventure. Playtime is essential to a child’s well-being.

However, television can fill a toddler’s need for playtime without providing the physical activity. One of the signs that a toddler watches too much tv is reduced interest in physical play and exercise. They become sedentary, which can impact a child’s health, introducing early risks of obesity.

3. Impaired Social Skills

Young children learn social skills through face-to-face interactions and real-life play with both caregivers and other children. These interactions are essential in building social sensitivity and the ability to capably navigate social situations. They learn empathy, conversational skills, and even the early stages of diplomacy through interactive play with other people.

In contrast, excessive screen time can hinder the development of these crucial social skills. When children watch tv, they see only scripted and artificial interactions and they miss the opportunity to practice for themselves. This can lead to a lack of social competence and either overconfidence or low social confidence depending on your toddler’s personality.

4. Disrupted Sleep Patterns

Toddlers need 11 to 14 hours of sleep a day, and preschoolers need 10 to 13 hours, including naps. Sleep is an important part of the development and learning process. However, screen time has a well-documented negative impact on both quality and duration of sleep.

Watching television increases alertness, and light-emitting screens can negatively influence your child’s natural circadian rhythm (their sense of when to sleep and be awake). While many parents use television to help their child wind down before bed, screen time widely causes later bedtimes, difficulty getting to sleep, and shorter sleep durations.

If your toddler can’t get to sleep or won’t sleep through the night, it may be a sign your toddler watches too much tv.

5. Attention Difficulties

Studies have shown that excessive screen time, sleep issues, and exposure to content that is fast-paced can trigger dopamine in the brain. Parents often worry when their toddler doesn’t respond to name when watching TV.

Too much of this in young children has been associated with development of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and attention-related behaviors issues. This is especially true in six year-olds and younger who are still cognitively developing. 

It’s important to watch for the signs that a toddler watches too much tv. Television and video games both can over-stimulate a child’s dopamine production without providing interactive challenge. This can impact their development, leading to a reduced ability to focus and concentrate and an increased likelihood of ADHD symptoms in later years.

6. Delayed Language Development

Toddlers talk constantly as they engage their minds in active speech and language development. Over time, “baby talk” will fade as toddlers develop a clearer ability to both express themselves and understand other. To achieve this, however, toddlers need constant verbal interactions and engaging activities during family time and interaction with other children that challenge and develop their language skills.

Interaction not only provides practice, it also gives toddlers useful feedback on how well they can be understood and the affect of language on others. Excessive TV watching or screen use denies toddlers the interactive element of language. As a result, you may notice your toddler is delayed in their language development and communication.

mom and kid sitting on the couch, watching tv

Credit: Pexels

7. Decreased Curiosity and Creativity

Screen time is passive. Toddlers should have an insatiable curiosity and the initiative to try creative solutions for everything. A typical toddler always has another creative idea to explore, and they practice problem-solving all the time. A child whose primary entertainment is television, however, may show decreased curiosity and creativity. Even video games often have only a few options to explore, limiting a child’s opportunity to express creative problem-solving.

Too much screen time can hinder a child’s curiosity and imagination by creating an environment where these traits are not as useful. The television doesn’t change no matter how creative a child is, so they learn to absorb passively instead.

This is why it’s so important to know how to keep toddler busy without TV. Provide alternative activities for toddlers outside of tv and video games that foster creativity. Art projects, cooking together, coming up with silly songs, and playing made-up games all inspire creativity, encouraging curiosity and imagination in everyday play.

8. Poor Eating Habits

Television snacking is something we are all susceptible to, and a habit children should not learn at a young age. Children who eat in front of the television are more likely to develop a deep-set pattern of impulsive snacking which is a major contributor to childhood weight gain.

A recent study found that increased screen time has a positive correlation with emotional overeating, slow eating, slow satiation responsiveness, food fussiness, and emotional undereating. Food fussiness and an increased desire for snacks are among the signs that a toddler watches too much tv.

Pediatricians advise promoting healthy eating behaviors and regular mealtimes. Share family meals where each person focuses on healthy eating and conversation instead of distracted eating in front of a screen. Enforce snack times with toddler-sized portions of healthy foods and teach your toddler that it’s okay to stop eating when they are done.

9. Difficulty Transitioning from Screens

Toddlers love what they love, and screen time can have a magnetic quality that is hard to let go. Many toddlers have trouble with transitions, but will eventually put down their favorite toys to join another activity. Practicing transitions helps a child develop their self-regulation skills.

However, you may suspect your toddler watches too much tv when they have constant difficulty transitioning away from screen time and throws tantrums or breaks down when forced to do something other than watch television or play their favorite game. You may be worried that your child could become a toddler addicted to tv. Screen time can be highly engaging and pose a multi-layered challenge for breaking away.

A few strategies for easing transitions include:

  • Prepare Them: Choose natural break times, like the end of an episode or a specific time on the clock, and warn your child that TV time ends at that point.
  • Translate the Interest: Your child may be highly interested in the subject of what they’re watching. If it’s about trains, transition them to playing with toy trains. Or maybe you can play games they learned from their shows, or sing their favorite TV songs while cleaning up the house.
  • Watch More Later: Remind your toddler that they can always watch more later. This isn’t their last and only chance for more of their favorite show.
  • Give Choices: When screen time ends, make your toddler feel more empowered by offering a choice, like whether to do crafts or play blocks, or which type of sandwich to have for lunch. Engaging with the decision can help with the transition.

10. Withdrawn Behavior

Toddlers are supposed to be spending their time learning everything they’ll need in the future. Social skills, motor skills, and creative problem-solving are all part of a day’s worth of toddler playtime. However, if that time is spent in front of a screen, your toddler is learning to focus instead of socializing. This is an important time in personality and pattern development. Disengaged behavior in toddlers and withdrawing from social time can be a sign that your toddler watches too much TV. They may even display aggressive behavior to get back to the screen.

It is important to create a balance between screen activities and other forms of play. Making screen time interactive with a caregiver and educational programming can help by ensuring your toddler is still interacting and learning during screen time. But they also need physical play, from running around outdoors to building with blocks and imagination play.

👉 Master screen time control! Discover essential techniques in this article: “Effective Screen Time Management for Kids: How to Set Limits for Kids Watching TV.”

Setting Healthy Screen Time Limits

The best thing you can do if you see these 10 signs toddler watches too much tv is to set and enforce appropriate screen time limits for your toddlers. 

  • Interactive Screen Time with Caregivers: Try to make screen time something that is shared. Discuss what is going on including feelings and decisions so that your toddler is engaging in active learning, socializing, and problem-solving during screen time.
  • Limit to Specific Shows and Times During the Day: Establish that TV time is only for specific shows and times of day. It’s not a default activity. Your toddler will look forward to their favorite show without expecting all-day TV.
  • Limit Screen Time to 1-3 Hours a Day: AAP suggests that toddlers only experience 1-3 hours of screen time a day.
  • Role Model Screen Time Management: Lead by Example. Put your screens aside for family time to show how important time without screens really is.
  • Place Parental Controls on TVs and Devices: Prevent your child from accessing in appropriate content with parental controls and safety apps on all televisions and devices.
  • Remove TVs and Devices Before Bedtime: End screen time an hour before bedtime. Remove TVs and devices from your child’s bedroom so they don’t switch back on after the house is asleep.
  • Build an Active Non-Screen-Time Routine: Make sure your child’s day is full of fun activities that are not screen time like active play, building play, social times, outdoor games, and running errands.
two little boys watching tv

Credit: Pexels

Is Your Toddler Watching Too Much TV?

Television and phone games have become a core part of modern family life – for parents and children. However, toddler years are among the most important for child development through direct social interacitions and engaged, active play. Toddlers should only have 1-3 hours of screen time for a healthy routine.

The key signs that a toddler watches too much TV include frequent tantrums, sleep and attention disorders, delayed social and language skills, and a struggle to transition away from screen time. It is important to consider AAP’s reccomendation regarding toddler screen time and establish healthy routines such as family meals and daily activities to help your child maintain healthy screen habits as they get older. Prioritize interactive and enriching activities to support your child’s healthy development.

Now that you know which are the signs toddler watches too much tv, you’ll have to learn more about how to be a good parent regarding screen time for kids. Check out our free online parenting class “Why Screens Harm Your Child: 5-Step Guide to Optimize Screen Time for Kids and Get Your Kid off Tablets, Phones & TV” for everything you need to know – discover how much tv should a toddler watch and learn how to limit screen time.

Meet Sophie, the parenting assistant ready to ease your worries. Get instant, expert advice tailored to your parenting challenges. Connect with Sophie now and talk with her about how much tv should a toddler watch.

References

Adachi-Mejia, A., Longacre, M., Gibson, J., Beach, M., Titus-Ernstoff, L., & Dalton, M. (2006). Children with a TV in their bedroom at higher risk for being overweight. International Journal Of Obesity, 31(4), 644-651. http://doi.org/10.1038/sj.ijo.0803455

Anderson, D., & Pempek, T. (2005). Television and Very Young Children. American Behavioral Scientist,48(5),505-522. http://doi.org/10.1177/0002764204271506

Hoorn, J. F., & Konijn, E. A. (2003). Perceiving and experiencing fictional characters: An integrative account1. Japanese Psychological Research, 45(4), 250–268. https://doi.org/10.1111/1468-5884.00225

McGarvey, S. & Leon, K. (April, 2007). Family Councils: The Key is Communication. University of Missourri Extension. https://extension.missouri.edu/publications/gh6641

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