Table of Content
- Screen Time for Kids: A Guideline for Parents
- What is Screen Time and Why is it Important?
- Screen Time Recommendations by Age
- How Much Screen Time is Too Much for Kids
- How to Limit Screen Time for Kids
- Possible Problems Caused By Too Much Screen Time
- What Can Parents Do for Screen Time?
- Screen Time Recommendations from Experts
Children spend a lot of time on screens. In this day and age, it is unrealistic to expect children to not spend time on their smartphones, tablets, TVs, or computers.
A 2010 study states that in the US, children aged 8 to 18 spend 7.5 hours on average in front of a screen for entertainment.
Screens aren’t always bad, though. When used in moderation and in a smart fashion, screens can be essential tools for entertainment and education. This article will delve into what screen time really is, the possible problems it may cause, and some useful recommendations as to how to approach it.
What is Screen Time and Why is it Important?
Screen time is the time spent using electronic media like the TV, smartphones, game consoles, etc. Screen time is here to stay, and as technology advances, screens get more convenient to be around or do everything. Our smartphones are practically another limb of ours, and many of the usual errands like checking email or shopping online depend on us spending screen time.
There are many reasons why you should check how much time your child spends on their devices, as well as what they are doing while spending this time. Parents and scientists have been debating whether screen time is something they should be aware of for over two decades. Many studies have been done on the subject, and the majority of the studies suggest that unstructured screen time can be harmful to children.
Screen Time Recommendations by Age
Parents and caregivers may have a difficult time when they want to manage their child’s screen time. There are age recommendations by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry to draw out a screen time plan for the child. According to the AACAP guidelines:
- Screen time should be limited to the use of video chatting with an adult, like a parent who is out of town, until the age of 18 months.
- Screen time should be limited to consuming educational programs with a parent or caregiver present between the ages of 18 and 24 months.
- Screen time should be limited to about 1 hour every week and maybe 3 hours on the weekend (outside the educational screen time) for children aged 2 to 5.
- Parents and caregivers should encourage healthy habits like going to the park to play and socialize, and limit activities that include too much screen time for children aged 6 and older.
It may feel like only young children need to be monitored when they spend time on screen. However, there is really a no graduation age where the child no longer needs monitoring or limits. The parents and caregivers can turn off all screens at specific times, such as meal times. There are also features in devices and software that allow for parental controls to check their children’s activity.
One of the things that parents and caregivers sometimes do and is harmful is utilizing screen time in place of establishing healthy habits, such as giving the child a tablet to stop their tantrums. Devices and screen time should not be used as pacifiers for children.
How Much Screen Time is Too Much for Kids
For many years, the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended that children and teenagers not spend more than two hours of screen time. However, with the development of technology, this idea started not to reflect today’s reality regarding devices and screens. Their new recommendations now are on the basis that technology is an integral part of our lives and the two-hour per day limit may not be so realistic.
As we will discuss in this blog post, technology can be a valuable tool of learning and exercise, too. Thus, prohibiting access to technology and devices may not be efficient. Rather than banning screen time entirely, the new guidelines by the AAP focus on setting healthy habits and guidelines to prevent children from using these devices without any structure or in an unhealthy manner.
There is no rule set in stone that states a certain amount of screen time is harmful to children. The newest guidelines provided by the AAP offer parents and caregivers a more flexible set of recommendations as to the number of hours children should be allowed to use digital devices and screens.
According to the AAP , the media can be good and bad. If used in a smart way, technology can offer children a vast amount of information and educational content. But they can also encounter inappropriate content. Here, the parents should be monitoring the content.
The parents and caregivers should also model a healthy way of using technology. Children will likely mimic their parents. Instead of spending excessive time on your phone, read a book or do exercise, and invite your child to do so as well.
Don’t forget to establish a set of rules about their technology use, which sites they can visit or the games they can play. Also make sure that you establish reasonable limits on screen time. Unlimited access to electronics may not be a good idea for your child’s physical and mental health. They should not be sitting in front of the television the whole weekend.
Make sure that you set aside a timeframe where no technology is used. Don’t leave the TV on in the background, or maybe turn off all of your electronics during certain times of the day. Engage them into activities that don’t involve digital devices.
How to Limit Screen Time for Kids
There is no single way that will be effective for every child when it comes to limiting screen time. Sometimes, starting to limit your child’s screen time can be difficult. However, starting early and being aware of how your child spends time on screen can be really beneficial in eliminating certain problems related to overuse of and unstructured screen time.
Here are some simple steps that can help you slim down your child’s screen time:
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Don’t turn on the TV as background noise.
The TV will get your child’s attention, no matter your intentions. If the TV is on, your child will likely turn their head towards the screen and watch it. If you are not actively watching it, try turning it off.
Don’t eat in front of the screen
Eating in front of the TV screen or the tablet will increase the time spent on that device. In addition, eating a meal or snacking in front of electronic devices encourages mindless munching. This can cause obesity.
Don’t bring the screens into your bedrooms
Electronic devices in the bedroom cause children to spend more time on the screens compared to children who don’t have these devices in their rooms. Also, having these devices in common areas would allow for the parent or caregiver to more easily monitor the quality of the screen time their child is spending.
Put the handheld devices away as much as possible
When it is screen-free hours, parents and caregivers should put the handheld devices away or to a designated place like the charging station in the common area. This is to prevent them from attracting the child’s attention.
Possible Problems Caused By Too Much Screen Time
The screen time your child spends may be more than you realize. Not monitoring this time could cause some problems. The following are some of the issues and problems that may arise from unstructured or too much screen time:
Too much screen time can be linked to being obese and overweight . The more your child spends time on devices, the greater the chance of their risk of becoming overweight. Moreover, some ads may cause your child to develop an appetite for junk food. Most of the time, eating while watching television or playing video games may cause overeating.
Poor Academic Performance
School-aged children who have a television or other devices and screens in their bedroom were found to perform worse on tests compared to those without these devices in their bedrooms. Although it is not the only culprit for poor academic performance, too much screen time can contribute significantly.
Studies on the effects of screens on sleep have shown that the light emitted from the screens interferes with the sleep cycle in the brain . Although some parents may sometimes like to fall asleep in front of the TV before bed, this can be harmful to the children. Too much screen time or looking at screens right before bed can cause trouble with falling asleep, and eventually it can lead to insomnia. Sleep loss can cause the child to be exhausted and not rested the next day.
Elementary school-age children who spend more than two a day on devices such as watching television or playing video games are found to be more likely to have emotional, social, and attention problems.
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry states that children may resort to violence in order to solve the problems they may face and imitate what they see on the screen. So, exposure to violence through devices can make the child desensitized to it eventually.
What Can Parents Do for Screen Time?
Screens will not go anywhere. But the good news is when used correctly, screen time can be really beneficial for the child. There are many ways to correctly utilize and get the best of the screen time. Here are a couple of options.
Screen Time Can Be a Classroom
Using smart devices as a way to access educational material has been a popular method for many years now. Online education tools are great resources for at-home learning. These provide children with a wide range of subjects and support parents and caregivers along the way in terms of supporting the child’s education.
You can make it a game where you explore a new subject every week with your child and get them excited about learning. Another thing you can try out and utilize smart devices in an educational way is to set up a family classroom where you will fill a hat with papers that have topics written on them. Everyone can then pick a random paper and do a project on the subject matter.
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Structured Play Time
Play is an essential part of a child’s development in so many aspects. There are many quality games out there that the child can play to be entertained and sometimes learn along the way. The only thing to make sure that your child spends quality screen time while playing is to make a schedule and stick to it. Make sure that you set rules regarding this play time and be really clear on them.
As long as you find suitable play material, monitor your child, and ensure the rules are followed, play can be a quality screen time. Setting the rules and explaining them to your child will make them feel in control and empowered, and responsible for their actions and choices.
Care for Yourself and Your Child
Meditation and mindfulness can be really beneficial in this day and age where we are surrounded by constant stimulants almost all the time. Children and adults can practice mindfulness through online resources such as guided meditations or virtual yoga classes.
Another way you can just relax with your child is by listening to your favorite songs and thinking about the meanings of the lyrics to that song. These activities will help your child develop their skills in self-awareness and self-reflection.
Yoga is one of the most effective ways to treat your body and your mind in the best way possible. This doesn’t even have to be a separate activity. Try to encourage your child to do yoga moves when you are taking a break from watching a movie to tone and stretch their muscles.
Exercise and moving the body is important for many health reasons. It gets our blood flowing and we can think even better. It boosts the mood, and increases resilience against mental distresses like anxiety and depression.
You can utilize the screen time by watching a fun exercise video for the kids and moving along with them. This can also be a dance party to your child’s favorite song. Moving the body can turn the screen time into an active game.
Connect with Loved Ones
Social interaction is essential to have a balanced social-emotional well-being. This was proven true especially in the past two years during the pandemic. Thankfully, we have smart devices and the Internet that can connect us to our loved ones far away, at the tap of a screen.
You can create virtual play dates with your child’s friends if they can’t get together. They can play, chat, discuss ideas and much more. This could be a great opportunity to visit their grandparents or their aunts and cousins as well.
Screen Time Recommendations from Experts
There is a lot of information and recommendations online about how to manage screen time for your child. This may confuse some parents and caregivers as to which direction to take and what exactly to do in their case. As we mentioned before, there is no one-size-fits-all approach that could be applied successfully to every single child.
For this exact reason, the Children and Screens: Institute of Digital Media and Child Development , an international non-profit organization founded in 2013 understand and address media’s impact on child development, worked with top experts in the fields of parenting, education, and child psychology. The Children Screens then polled these experts to give their top tips for toddlers regarding screen time. The following are some of the 12 recommendations for parents of school-age children for the pandemic, as published on their website. You can find all of the recommendations here .
CREATE SCREEN-FREE ZONES
As a family, agree on some times and places during the day when you will just be together, without the disruption of checking your screen. Meals, bedtime, game time, and walks around the block are all good times to stash your device and be fully present with each other and with the moment. With so much of life happening on screens, we need to protect quality time and places where we can simply connect with ourselves and each other, without digital distraction. – Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair, Clinical and Consulting Psychologist, Cambridge MA
PICK AND CHOOSE
While structure is important, worried children may benefit from daily “choices” to help them feel like they can still maintain some sense of control (especially when everything around them seems chaotic)! For instance, when school is over for the day, tell them it’s time to play a game, but they can choose which one. If butting heads, try to offer them one of two options. – Meredith Gansner, MD, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, Cambridge Health Alliance
PRIORITIZE AND ORGANIZE
If you’re a parent who’s working virtually from home, be sure to set realistic goals and create a schedule to match your workday. Recognize what meetings you need to “attend,” and what may be less important. If you have asynchronous work to complete, prioritize the most important deliverables, and help your children to do the same. Some teachers have virtual lessons that would be helpful for your children. Some teachers have pre-recorded lessons that you and your child can view at a time that works for both of you. If this doesn’t work, use resources such as Khan Academy to help out! – Colleen Kraft, MD
HOW CAN I HELP?
Ask your children to come up with ways that they can help each other (and you). If they can’t think of anything, suggest ideas like “help each other not be bored,” or “help each other with schoolwork.” Post their “Helping Ideas” on the fridge and come up with new ideas every few days, or even every day. – Elizabeth K. Englander, PhD Director, Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center, Bridgewater State University
MIX IT UP
Treat your child’s mind with respect and kindness by mixing up the day with activities that’ll challenge different parts of their brain (e.g. reading versus math). Monitor your kids for signs of fatigue, increased irritability, distractibility, and fidgeting, and take breaks for physical activity when necessary. Oftentimes, screen use only stimulates the visual and auditory part of the brain, which means senses like smell, touch, taste, and temperature are not being adequately stimulated. What the brain doesn’t use winds up growing less developed, so varied activities and challenges will help your child develop all of their senses. – Martin P. Paulus M.D. Scientific Director and President, Laureate Institute for Brain Research
LISTEN WITH YOUR EYES
Non-verbal behavioral cues (such as a shrug of the shoulders or a furrowing of the brow) can provide helpful information about a child’s understanding of the content being shared with them. The same holds true even for online instruction. In the course of a lesson occurring in real time, make sure that your child presents both verbal and non-verbal cues to let the teacher know what may or may not be understood about a given concept, lesson, or assignment. – Fran C. Blumberg, Professor Division of Psychological & Educational Services, Fordham University
DO YOUR BEST
Off-screen activities are great, but you won’t always have the mental capacity to support non-screen tasks, and that’s totally fine. Fred Rogers once said: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things… my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” By social distancing, your family is helping. And if that means you need to let your kids have a little extra television time in the midst of a crisis, that’s okay. Just be sure to find media you trust and keep an eye on what your kids are watching. – Dr. Jessica Piotrowski, Director, Center for research on Children, Adolescents, and the Media, University of Amsterdam
IT’S OK TO BE BORED!
The next time your child complains to you about being bored, resist the urge to put a screen in front of them. Instead, let them sit with their boredom. It may make you both a bit uncomfortable at first, but it turns out that our brains are doing important work when we’re not actively engaged in a specific task. Neuroscientists call this the default mode of brain functioning, and it’s linked to a whole bunch of important skills, including self-awareness and empathy. So, instead of dreaming up another enriching activity to engage your children, let them get bored. Their developing brains will thank you. – Martin P. Paulus M.D. Scientific Director and President, Laureate Institute for Brain Research
LET’S GET PHYSICAL
Capitalizing on the ways in which digital technology can promote healthy activities can be fun for both parents and their children while staying at home. Turn on your streaming music service and have a dance party with your kids, or go old school with a Wii Fit for solo or team exercise and competition. There are also a variety of free and subscription-based apps that have family fitness content to provide fun and engaging ways to interact and exercise as a family. – Kara Bagot, MD, Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, Department of Psychiatry