Screen Time: How Much is Too Much?

One of the approaches parents use to limit their children’s involvement with video games and other digital media is to restrict access during school days, while allowing limited use on weekends and holidays. While we don’t have any data that describe how often this approach is used, I would venture to guess based on the families that I work with that between 10 and 25 percent of parents use some form of this strategy. It’s straightforward, reduces arguments about technology access, and places an emphasis on involvement in other activities.

It may also be particularly useful for children who tend to become overly immersed in their digital-media use and have difficulty leaving it or transitioning to another activity.

The weekend and holidays-only approach does not prevent kids from having regular involvement with other digital media. Children are increasingly involved with digital technologies at school and routinely use computers for gathering information and content creation. In all likelihood, they have access to video games and other digital media when visiting with friends, and, should your child have a cell phone, this is easily used for gaming and social networking.

Should you decide to go with a weekend and holidays-only access to digital media, we have a few suggestions that may be useful:

  • Communicate with your children’s teachers to understand when and how often they need Internet access to complete their schoolwork. Even first and second grade students may have assignments on online sites such as lexialearning.com and plato.com.
  • Focus on your child’s involvement in other play activities rather than on the absence of digital play. Make sure you have materials such as arts supplies, sporting equipment, puzzles, challenging board games, and books available.
  • Always allow music. While most of today’s music technically comes in the form of a digital media, listening to it is simply good for your kids. Interestingly, there are many kids who can actually perform better on their schoolwork if they are listening to music, rather than working in silence. You’ll have to experiment to see if this applies to your child.
  • Be prepared to be an activity director at times. This means driving the kids to their friends’ homes, taking them to practice, being available to take a walk or play sports with them, and going on short family outings.
  • Apply this plan cautiously to teenagers. Today’s teens use their cell phones (more than 75% of teens own cell phones) to be connected with their peers and to be part of a larger community. Teens without cell phones may justifiably feel isolated from what is happening in their peer group at times.
  • Have a family game night in which the entire family plays a video game together. This may satisfy your children’s appetite for video-game play and provide a great opportunity for family togetherness. Also consider other ways to make additional digital access more productive such as selecting games that practice Thinking Skills or promote social awareness.
  • Discuss the value of having time and energy for other forms of play and activity with your children. Be clear that this schedule is not meant as a punishment for them, but it is intended to be your family’s approach to finding balance in their activities.

Who is it good for?

A weekend and holidays-only schedule for digital media use is often a good solution for children who can be overly focused on video games and other digital media and cannot transition from one activity to another. In this instance, it can help avoid arguments between parents and children, and it can also set very clear limits so you don’t hear the familiar refrain, “I need to beat this level before I stop.”

This type of schedule can also be helpful for children who are reluctant to try new activities. Some children tend to seek out the safety of playing video games or using other digital media in which they do not need to fear failure or engage with others. Focusing on getting these children involved in after-school activities that involve other children and new experiences is most important.

This strategy is also appropriate for children who are struggling in school because they are unwilling to put the time and effort into studying and completing their schoolwork. If this is the case, we suggest using the schedule on a temporary, rather than permanent, basis. It is our opinion that children should have enough time to do their homework and participate in many other play activities, including digital play. If your child is getting too much homework, talk to her teacher about the need for balance.

In applying this schedule to children who are not completing their schoolwork, it should not be designed as a punishment but as an example of a parent’s value system that places school performance as a highly important activity. Once children have proven that they are getting their schoolwork done and are more successful, you may wish to implement a less restrictive policy, but one that emphasizes physical, rather than digital, after school activities, as exercise has been demonstrated to improve learning and attention.

Other Posts in this Series:

Introduction

Part 1: An Hour a Day

Part 2: Never on Weekdays 

Part 3: Anytime, Anything, Anyplace

Part 4: After Their Homework is Done

Part 5: Educational Games Only

Part 6: Just Like Any Other Activity

Part 7: Never

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