How Much Screen Time For Your Kids Is Enough?

Family Counseling Insights brought to you by Patricia McTague-Loft

It seems like the internet has been around forever. But most people probably didn’t start regularly visiting websites until 2000 or so. And who even knew what Google was back then? Beyond the internet, remember that the Apple iPhone was introduced in 2007, even though over two billion of them have sold to date.

All this relatively new technology has presented everyone with a variety of challenges, some obvious and some not yet understood. Parents in particular have a vexing challenge when it comes to monitoring how much time their kids spend in front of a screen. Research accumulates literally every day about everything from the effects of a screen’s blue light on the eyes to the psychological implications of social media.

Fortunately, researchers and psychologists take the subject seriously and are offering solid advice. Writing for the Child Mind Institute, Hannah Sheldon-Dean says, “When you’re thinking about the role that screen time plays in your child’s life, it can be tempting to start counting hours of TV or TikTok. But David Anderson, PhD, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, recommends thinking in terms of your child’s overall health and how they spend their time in general.” Evaluating your child’s overall health begins by checking all aspects of their development. That includes thinking about their diet, exercise, amount of family time, quality of friendships, progress in school and types of outside activities. If your child is developing nicely along all these lines, you have some room to be a little more permissive when it comes to screen time.

At the same time, a limit on screen time is still advisable if only to keep your child maturing properly. One other note: we’re talking about screen time in general, not about time on social media — which is a subject for another day. Regarding screen time, Sheldon-Dean offers the following guidelines for setting rules.

Set Reasonable Limits. Before laying down the law, it’s advisable to let your child know that you value their time to relax. Playing some games on a digital advice can help them reduce stress, so let them know that’s ok. You might then develop a plan where they earn screen time or additional screen time. But be careful – the rules for earning extra screen time need to be clear and you need to follow them as well.

A big part of setting the rules is including a schedule. “It can also be helpful to set specific times of the day or week when your kids know they’ll be allowed to use their screens,” Sheldon-Dean  writes. “For instance, maybe the 30 minutes before dinner are always open for screen time. That kind of structure helps kids know what to expect and cuts down on their requests for screens at other times.”

Another tip is to model healthy screen time. Make a point of putting down your phone during dinner and other inappropriate times.

Stay The Course. If you’ve been lax about enforcing your rules or never established them in the first place, you may be in for a rocky few days when you begin to limit the amount of your kids’ screen time. Kids love to test boundaries. So, stay firm and make sure that everyone is comfortable with the new routine. That may be tough, so follow the Child Mind Institute’s tips:

  • Don’t debate. Your job as a parent isn’t to persuade your child through reasoned logic. Let them know the rules are not up for discussion.
  • Skip the guilt trip. Be ready for the old “but my friends do it” line. Let them know the rules are there to help them — end of story.
  • Pick the right time. If you want to update the rules, don’t do that arbitrarily. Changing rules on a Friday night when you’ve had a long week and just want everyone to be quiet probably isn’t a good idea. Decide in advance if you’re ready to modify the rules, then pick a date to institute the update — the day you’re coming home from a vacation, the start of a new school year, your child’s birthday.

Gather Data And Reevaluate. An older child may give you a good reason to change things. “Your teenager might swear that using screens after a certain time doesn’t affect their sleep, or that homework is easier with a friend on FaceTime,” says Sheldon-Dean. “In cases like those, you can give their version a try and track how it goes for a couple of weeks. Do they wake up on time in the morning? Does all the homework get done?” If so, be open to change.

Go Easy On Yourself — and Your Kids. Basically, this means living by the spirt of the law rather than the exact word of the law. Be a little flexible with the rules, but don’t simply break them.