How Much Screen Time Should a Child Have?
Social media in the morning, texting throughout the afternoon, and video games all evening: To a lot of teens, that sounds like the perfect day. As a parent, however, you’re right to be concerned. Too much screen time can be toxic for developing brains. Even if your kids escape the mental health consequences of excessive screen use, they may struggle to form real relationships or miss key developmental milestones. With that said, your kids have a point: They can’t avoid screens altogether. Everything from applying to college to submitting homework now involves a screen. So how much screen time should a child have? As with most parenting questions, the answer isn’t black and white.
How Long Should Kids Spend on Screens?
It isn’t an understatement to say teens use screens like it’s their job: On average, they spend 7.5 hours using digital devices for entertainment, with tweens not far behind at 5 hours. Notably, those figures exclude time spent using screens for school and homework.
Nobody should be spending that much time on screen-based entertainment. For teens, however, it exceeds experts’ recommendations by nearly four-fold. Their two-hour recommendation is reduced to one hour of high-quality programming for kids younger than five, with zero screen time suggested for those under two.
Each child is different, of course, and some may be able to handle more screen time than others. The type of activity is important, too: A video chat with family members is a lot different than mindlessly surfing the internet.
The only true way to know how much screen time a child should have is to pay attention. If it seems like they’re overdoing it, then they probably are.
It’s All About Balance
Screens are like a lot of other dangers in life. Cars are great ways to get around, but they can be deadly if used recklessly. The trouble is, kids aren’t yet old enough to make informed, responsible choices. When life gets stressful, they may turn to screens as an escape.
As a parent, it’s up to you to help your kids make smart choices with screens. To have a screen-balanced home, you have to be willing to step in. If your daughter is shutting herself away for hours in her room to use her phone, find out why. Your son’s texting compulsion may be a sign of something more serious, such as cyberbullying.
Except in serious cases, the solution isn’t to take away all of your kids’ devices. Dictating “screen time is over” can be ineffective and push your children away. The key is to encourage time off-screen.
Beware, you may get pushback at first. But sooner or later, your kids will realize that life’s best moments can’t be lived through a screen.
Encouraging Life Outside the Screen
Rather than pry your kids phone away from them, use these low-key ways to promote healthier screen habits:
Treat Screen Time as a Reward
Bribes encourage bad behavior, but it’s not a bad idea to use screen time to teach your kids that hard work pays off. One option is to tie screen time to responsibilities like chores. You could offer a whole list that must be completed before screen time is allowed, or award an amount of screen time for each task completed. This is a great way to not just limit their screen use, but to actually replace it with more productive activities.
Create a Plan Together
Command-and-control parenting doesn’t work when it comes to screen time. Instead, sit down with each of your kids and create a plan to limit screen time.
Decide together: At what times and in what contexts is it OK for your kids to use their digital devices? Explain the reasons behind boundaries you set, such as no electronics in the bedroom: Screens impair sleep, and you want to be sure your son or daughter is getting enough rest.
Get a Safe Smartphone
Once your kids are ready, you can ease them into technology with a safe smartphone like the Gabb Phone™. These phones don’t connect to the internet or have app store access, so you can limit the amount and type of screen time they get.
Organize Family Activities
When you put together activities for the whole family, issue a no-screen policy to encourage everyone to enjoy each other’s company. Holding family dinner or doing outdoor activities like gardening together promote healthy relationships and positive interactions.
Teens typically turn to their electronics either for entertainment or to connect with others. They can accomplish both in healthier ways by taking part in extracurriculars, such as sports and clubs. Not only will they develop new skills and hobbies, but they’ll form real-world relationships with kids who are interested in the same things that they are.
You know your kids better than anyone. Listen to the experts, but trust your gut when it comes to how much screen time should a child have. Screens are part of life, but especially for kids, that part should be a small one.