Do you ever feel like your kids are attached to their screens? If so, you’re not alone. Many parents wonder what is too much screen time for kids. According to a recent report from Common Sense Media, the average 8- to 10-year-old spends about six hours a day on screen media, while the average teenager spends nearly nine hours.
While there are no hard and fast rules about how much screen time is too much, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under the age of two have no screen time at all, and that children over the age of two should have no more than one hour per day.
But even if your child falls within these guidelines, it’s important to be aware of the potential symptoms of too much screen time.
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Too much screen time
Signs that your child may be spending too much time in front of a screen:
1. They’re missing out on other activities.
If your child would rather spend their time playing video games or watching TV than doing other things, it may be a sign that they’re spending too much time on screens. Try to encourage them to engage in other activities, such as playing outside, reading, or doing crafts.
Bring out some of the things that they used to love to do before they became so immersed in screens. Drawing? Playing catch? Building things? It doesn’t matter their age; these once cherished activities can be adapted to wherever they are now.
2. They’re not getting enough sleep.
Too much screen time can lead to sleep problems, such as difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep. If your child is having trouble sleeping, it may be a sign that they need to cut back on their screen time. A common rule of thumb is to make sure that there is a 60 minute window where screens are put away before bedtime. This helps the brain and body start to relax.
3. They’re not doing well in school.
If your child’s grades are slipping or they’re having trouble paying attention in class, it may be a sign that they’re spending too much time on screens. Try to encourage them to limit their screen time so they can focus on their studies.
The digital world is not built for focusing on any one thing for too long. When we are constantly exposed to this style of input, our brain gets programmed to keep looking for the next thing. Focus becomes incredibly difficult.
4. They’re having trouble socializing.
If your child is having difficulty making friends or interacting with others, it may be a sign that they’re spending too much time on screens. Try to encourage them to spend more time talking to people face-to-face and less time talking to people online. There is nothing that replaces spending time in actual physical proximity to others.
Reducing screen time
3 Tips to reduce screen time without nagging
Talk to them about their screen time. One of the best ways to help reduce your child’s screen time is to talk to them about it. Explain why you’re concerned about their screen time and try to come up with a plan together on how they can reduce it. Encourage them to find other things to do.
Another way to help reduce your child’s screen time is to encourage them to find other things to do. Try to find activities that your child enjoys and that don’t involve screens, such as playing outside, reading, or doing crafts.
Lead by example. One of the best ways to reduce your child’s screen time is to lead by example. If you’re constantly on your phone or watching TV, your child is more likely to do the same. Try to limit your own screen time so you can set a good example for your child.
It’s never too soon to educate your kids on the downside of technology overuse
The effects of too much screen time can show up at any age. It’s not just about the amount of time spent in front of a screen, but also the quality of that time. Just like adults, kids need a balance of activities that include face-to-face interaction, physical activity and unplugged downtime for their bodies and brains to thrive.
Kids also need to know how to research interests or topics on their own to be able to form their open opinions and have their own perspectives. Many kids these days are inundated with the same “viral” content and there is a uniformity of thought that is starting to occur. We need individual thoughts and perspectives for innovation and ideas to be shared in the world.
The beauty of technology is that there is so much incredible information at our fingertips, more than ever before. The downside is that anyone can post anything, true or not, and so we need to teach our kids how to discern the information that they take in.
Fortunately, there are things you can do to help reduce your child’s screen time. Here are three tips:
Tip 1: Set limits on screen time
The first step is to set some limits on screen time. This will help your child balance their time between screens and other activities.
Some ways to set limits on screen time include:
• Having set times for using screens, such as after homework is done or before bedtime;
• Setting a limit on the total amount of time spent on screens each day;
• Choosing screen-free activities to do as a family, such as playing games or going for walks;
• Making sure there are no screens in your child’s bedroom; and
• Not using screens yourself in front of your child.
Tip 2: Choose quality over quantity
It’s not just about the amount of time spent in front of a screen, but also the quality of that time. Just like adults, kids need a balance of activities that include face-to-face interaction, physical activity and unplugged downtime for their bodies and brains to thrive.
Here are some ways to make sure your child is having a positive experience with screens:
• Choosing quality content that is educational or entertaining;
• Using screens together as a family to watch shows or play games;
• Talking to your child about what they’re watching or playing; and
• Making sure there are breaks for physical activity and face-to-face interaction.
Tip 3: Be a good role model
Children learn by example, so it’s important to be a good role model when it comes to screen time. If you want your child to limit their screen time, you need to do the same.
Some ways to be a good role model include:
• Not using screens during meals or while driving;
• Putting away your own devices when you’re spending time with your child;
• Not using screens as a way to cope with boredom or stress; and
• Taking breaks from screens yourself.
Screen time is a part of life, but it’s important to make sure it doesn’t take over. By following these tips, you can help your child find a healthy balance.
Teach digital and appropriate behavior online
Talk to your kids about what they’re doing online. Ask them about the websites they visit, the games they play, and the people they talk to. Explain to them why it’s important for you to be aware of what they’re doing online. Let them know that you want them to be safe and provide age-appropriate reasons for your protection.
• Teach them that not everything that they see online is a true depiction of what happens in real life.
• Talk about why things go “viral” and how to not get caught up in all the hoopla of the craze.
Let you kids know that you will be using parental controls to limit their access to certain websites and games as well as monitoring their activity. As you have conversations about this upfront, you are not breaching their trust. It also then just becomes the norm and part of daily life as opposed to being punitive or oppressive.
Get to know more about your kids’ online friends
• Talk to your kids about the people they’re talking to online.
• Ask them how they met their friends and what they talk about. Are these people friends of friends? How did those friends meet? If it becomes just normal conversation, there doesn’t have to be anything confrontational about the conversation.
• Remind them not to share personal information, such as their address or phone number or age, with people they don’t know. My son and many of his friends only call themselves by their screen names. This adds another layer of safety.
• Let your child know to come to you if someone makes them feel uncomfortable online or says something out of line. This can be anything from bullying, use of profanity, inappropriate behavior, or anything that they question.
You can then talk about it together and see if it warrants reporting. Most online games/systems and apps have ways of reporting inappropriate activity.
Make sure that you are able to hear what is going on as they are playing so that you can also have your own peace of mind and know more about what your kid’s interests are too.
Developing screen time rules
If you’re concerned that your child is spending too much time on screens, there are a few things you can do to help reduce their screen time.
Set limits on screen time. One way to help reduce your child’s screen time is to set limits on how much they can use screens each day. You can do this by setting a daily limit or by limiting the amount of time they can use screens during certain periods, such as after school or on weekends.
Another way to limit screen time is to designate times when screens are not allowed, such as during meals or before bedtime. You can also create screen-free zones in your home, such as making the dining room a place where screens are not allowed.
Encourage outdoor activities and creative play. One of the best ways to reduce screen time is to encourage your child to engage in outdoor activities and creative play. This can include things like riding bikes, playing tag, playing frisbee, or building things.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to reducing screen time. The key is to find what works for your family and stick to it.
Developing rules and boundaries for older kids
As kids get older, you may need to adjust your screen time limits. For example, older kids may need more screen time for homework or research. But it’s still important to make sure they’re not spending too much time on screens overall.
The other thing to mention about why we need to set limits even for the older kids is that the part of their brain where decisions are formed has not yet fully developed, so they are not yet fully equipped to make these kinds of decisions and choices without some guidance and support.
Encourage other activities. In addition to setting limits on screen time, try to encourage your child to engage in other activities. This can include things like playing outside, reading, doing something creative, or spending time with family and friends.
Talk to your child about screen time. It’s also important to talk to your child about why you’re concerned about their screen time and how it could be affecting their health and well-being. This can help them understand the importance of limiting their screen.
Screens are a part of our lives that will not be changing anytime soon. Think about how different our childhood was compared to theirs. We learn and adapt. The disdain for screens doesn’t have to be the scapegoat for power struggles or isolation in our families.
The reason for these guidelines is that these precious years are when kids are starting to learn social cues, learning how to engage with other humans and learning more than any other time in their life. The neural pathways are being formed for relationship building and how the world works.
As parents, we want to make sure that we know what input our kids are receiving and that we are able to be part of the development and processing of these discoveries for our kids.
We can use too much screen time for kids to help learn more about each other and bring us together rather than letting it drive us apart. It’s all in the approach!
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