How Much Screen Time is Too Much?

How much screen time is too much? One of the more common approaches to structuring children’s use of video games and other technologies is to allow them access after they have completed their homework. This approach is akin to the concept of having dessert after you have finished your dinner. It makes the assumption that like dessert, video games and other technologies are simply frosting on the cake, sweetness without substance.

There is a great deal of evidence that this is not the case. In addition to the emerging data that some video game play is good for kids, video game play and digital media use is a major form of socialization and learning for today’s children. In fact, for many children the use of the Internet and many of the educational programs that we use for schools are a crucial part of their education. Digital media and the facility to use them are seamlessly becoming increasingly integral components of education and future vocations.

Rather than viewing this parenting strategy as restrictive, a different way to view the “after your homework is done approach,” is to use this method of digital learning to communicate the value of education. Many parents who set these limits are simply identifying doing well in school as a top priority. Parents who use this approach may also be teaching their children how to prioritize and take care of what’s important first, and then have time to relax and have fun.

If you choose to follow the “after your homework is done approach,” we have a number of suggestions for you. These include:

  • Recognize that sometimes homework is done on the computer. Even at the elementary school level, much of the research conducted by students takes place on the computer, as opposed to the library or with an encyclopedia.
  • Be certain to communicate that just because homework is completed doesn’t mean that the only thing your child should do is play video games or watch television. More importantly, they should recognize and prioritize that getting their school work done is a key activity for their academic success. Have a plan for the days in which there is no homework, such as on weekends, holidays, or vacations. In our estimation, it is not healthy when kids spend an unlimited amount of time with technology. Ensure that digital play is only one aspect of your child’s daily activities when there is no homework to be done.
  • Play equals learning. Having an opportunity to play is an incredibly important thing for all children. Particularly for elementary and preschool children, play is the place where they will learn social skills, self control, planning, and problem solving. Physical, social, and even digital play may be a prerequisite for later academic learning.
  • Sometimes after a rough day at work (or in school), taking some time to chill is necessary in order to complete whatever tasks need to be done. It is important that both parents and children alike remain alert for these types of days, particularly those who tend to utilize the “after your homework is done” approach to daily tasks.
  • Younger children need more specific limits than this approach offers. For some children, this strategy may give them the wrong message, insinuating that once school is done, it doesn’t matter what you do. The concepts outlined in our healthy Play Diet are essential and need to be implemented for kids in order to develop both their academic and social skills.
  • Do not use this approach if you feel as though your child has some tendencies towards overdoing their technology use. It is common for these children to rush through their homework and challenge you when you set more limits to their digital media use, as they were only complying with the limits you previously set. If you notice sings that your child is overusing his technology privileges, it is better to use different strategies such as a “one hour per day policy,” or integrate their daily use with digital media “as part of a healthy Play Diet.”

Who is it good for?

The “after you have done your homework” is a great approach for kids who love to play video games but do not like school. These children often find the success that they have in playing video games to be very reinforcing, particularly when compared to the struggles that they may experience in school. Helping them to use their digital media involvement as a reward can prove be very helpful.

This can also prove to be a good strategy for children who may be good students and like school, but have limited self-control. These children may have difficulty transitioning from playing a game or using technology to doing their homework on a timely basis. Essentially, parents can help them with their Time Management skills by setting a rule that they can play only after they have completed their homework. (In this case you will still need to monitor their overall digital play, because they might also experience difficulty transitioning from video games to other types of play).

The “after homework policy” may be beneficial for kids who have many interests and talents, but find school to be difficult. This approach may help children with prioritization and self-control skills. These children may also benefit from parents who explore digital methods for learning such as apps for academics including Google Docs and the iTunes U app, webites for learning such as Khan Academy and the use of technologies like e-readers such as Kindles.

Other Posts in this Series:


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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