How Much Screen Time Should I Let My Kids Have?

Technology offers robust learning opportunities if used mindfully

One of the most common questions I hear in my practice as a child clinical psychologist is how much screen time parents should let their kids have. Parents are unsure if spending time in front of screens is harmful for their kids or if it is something worthwhile. Most parents intuitively understand that spending all of one’s time in front of screens, as some kids would prefer, is not a great idea. Even if these parents themselves spend nine and a half hours a day in front of screens (which is the average amount of time adults currently spend with screens), it’s easy to see how screen time can replace other, more productive and useful activities. But when parents search for expert advice on how much screen time kids should have, the advice they receive ranges from complete and unfettered access to the total elimination of screens in a child’s life. Some parents and experts believe that teaching kids autonomy around their screen use is more important than how much time they actually spend on it, while others believe that screen time overly stimulates children’s nervous systems and has a detrimental impact on their brains.

Most experts suggest less extreme positions that involve some limit setting while recognizing that screen-based technologies are an important part of 21st-century children’s lives. Even experts who argue that highly restrictive measures are called for do so with the realization that screen-based technologies are increasingly being used for education and that the convenience of children having cell phones to communicate with their parents has become a necessary feature of modern life.

Our approach at LearningWorks for Kids has long been that technology offers robust learning opportunities for children if used mindfully and responsibly. Technologies are best for kids when parents, educators, and other adults are engaged along with them. It is our perspective that limit setting with video games, social media, and other digital media is best done by encouraging and reinforcing other activities rather than by having multiple rules and restrictions about technology use. Developing a healthy Play Diet in which children are expected and supported in their engagement with physical, social, creative, and unstructured play allows for digital play to be one important part of their lives We also recognize that the lure of technology is so powerful that parents need guidance about how they can implement a healthy and balanced Play Diet.

While we feel that a healthy and balanced Play Diet is the best approach to limiting screen time for  21st-century kids, there are many other suggestions for helping kids to have healthy relationships with their screens. One size does not fit all kids, so other factors such as developmental issues, family sensibilities, and access to media must be considered.  In addition, awareness of children’s mental and physical health concerns, parental abilities to monitor and set effective limits, and a child’s unique set of interests all impact screen-time access. With these many issues in mind, I encourage parents to explore a variety of  perspectives on setting effective screen-time limits for their children.

Articles and websites that offer alternative and complementary views to our perspectives at LearningWorks for Kids include:

Healthy Digital Media Use – Raising Screen-Smart Kids by Clifford Sussman, M.D. in Attention Magazine. Describes the importance of healthy technology habits for the entire family. Sussman has also created videos to help parents understand Internet and video-game addiction.

5 Myths About Screen Time by Patrick Coleman of Fatherly. Describes concerns that the light and sounds from technology can have a more detrimental impact on kids than the content of their media consumption.

10 Ways to Limit Your Child’s Screen Time by Amy Morin, LCSW. As an expert in developing mental strengths, Ms. Moran posits that parents need to assert themselves into their children’s screen-time use and suggests strategies including making screen time a privilege and obtaining children’s passwords.

Healthy Screen Time Use by Raising Children Network. Based in Australia, this site offers great developmental information about healthy screen time for preschoolers, elementary-aged kids, preteens, and teens.

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