The Right Mix of Screen Time, Nature Time

Even the youngest among us is immersed in a world of screens—laptops, televisions, tablets, and smart phones.

Screen time has its benefits. Children are learning earlier. They are increasingly exposed to knowledge. And, there are new opportunities to access health information.

But, what about going outside to play?

Nature improves physical, mental, and social health. The Centers for Disease Control advises that children should engage in healthy outdoor activities in nature and parks for at least 60 minutes.

It doesn’t have to be either or.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that parents balance media use with healthy behaviors, such as outdoor play.

On average, school-aged children spend 9.5 hours sleeping; 6.5 hours at school; and at least an hour eating.  What’s left? Time to spend outdoors, on a screen, or other miscellaneous chores and projects.

Screen time graphic

General Screen Time Guidelines by Age

18 months and younger – AAP discourages screen time, unless video-chatting with family and friends.

18 to 24 months – The Mayo Clinic suggests guided use of high quality programming, with educational value.

Ages 2 to 5 years – Limit screen time to only one hour a day of high quality programming.

Age 6 – Most experts suggest continuing to place limits on time spent in front of a screen. AAP recommends limiting children’s media usage to two hours per day and encouraging free, unstructured outdoor play.

Finding the Right Mix

Screen TimeNature TimeHave it Both Ways
  • Early learning
  • Exposure to knowledge
  • Increased opportunities for social contact
  • New opportunities to access health promotion
  • Get outdoors for more physical activity.
  • Improve mental health through unstructured play.
  • Enhance social skills and form friendships playing outdoors.
  • Why choose? Take a look at NEEF’s Apps for Outdoor Activity. It includes 10 free apps that provide children and their families with ideas on where to go and what to do outdoors.
  • Develop a Family Media Use Plan to find the balance between screen time and other activities.


American Academy of Pediatrics. 2016. “Children and Adolescents and Digital Media.” Accessed March 28.
American Academy of Pediatrics. 2016. “Media and Young Minds.” Accessed March 28.
Mayo Clinic. 2016. “Screen time and children – How to guide your child.” Accessed March 28.