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How to Determine the Right Amount of Screen Time for Your Kids

Nearly half of all children under the age of eight having their own device. Learn how to limit screen time for kids.

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The term “screen time” refers to the amount of time your kids spend in front of an electronic screen, including the screens on televisions, their smartphones, mobile devices, and computers. With almost half of kids under the age of eight having their own mobile device, it’s no wonder it’s estimated that they spend hours in front of a digital screen every day.

It’s important to note that screen time for kids doesn’t include the time children spend video chatting with their distant relatives or friends. Video chats differ from typical non-interactive screen time and the time kids spend in front of a screen on their own.

Engaging in conversation, even when it’s over an electronic screen, allows children to practice their social skills and familiarize themselves with non-verbal cues. Video chatting has also enabled kids to strengthen their familial bonds despite restrictions brought on by the pandemic.

Are you looking for ways to reduce your kids’ screen time? It’s sometimes tough to get children to step away from their devices, but we have just the thing to encourage them—Adventures From Scratch: Family Edition! Kids love uncovering new and exciting activities by scratching off each page. A handy key will help you decide which task to try next, and there are over 50 in each of our interactive adventure books. Pick up your copy today!

How Much Time Do People Spend in Front of a Screen Every Day?

It’s not just young kids who sit in front of electronic screens for a copious amount of time daily. Children of all ages absorb content on screens. Kids between the ages of eight and 12 years old spend an average of four to six hours looking at screens. Teens typically spend up to nine hours a day in front of an electronic screen. Things are even worse for adults living in the United States as their daily screen time averages more than 10 ½ hours.

Potential Problems Related to Screen Time

When your kids have too much screen time, serious problems may result, such as:

  • Sleep troubles
  • Poor academic performance
  • Obesity
  • Too little physical activity
  • Mood swings
  • Mental health problems like low self-esteem
  • Body image issues
  • Not knowing how to relax and have fun without screen time

Some of the problems just referenced can be quite severe. For example, an excessive amount of screen time can cause your children to develop behavior and learning problems. Studies show that two-year-olds who consume more than three hours of television a day are 300 percent more likely to have issues with their language development.

The mental health concerns stemming from too much screen time are worrisome at best. A comprehensive study revealed that teens whose daily screen use was seven hours or more were twice as likely to suffer from anxiety or depression compared to adolescents who absorbed less than one hour of digital content daily.

The type of content children view on electronic screens can have a strong influence on their behavior. Children can emulate the behaviors they view on television as early as six months. If kids view violence as they spend time in front of a digital screen, it may increase the likelihood that they’ll act aggressively.

Many kids either sit or lie down when they’re enjoying screen time, and they often mindlessly snack as they absorb content. Being more sedentary and snacking more can cause obesity and chronic health problems like heart disease over time.

Electronic screens emit a blue light that’s notorious for reducing viewers’ melatonin levels. That’s a problem because melatonin is the hormone that determines when a person falls asleep and wakes up. Research shows that teenagers who use screens more than three hours daily have more difficultly falling asleep than their peers who record less screen time.

If kids use electronic devices in the hour before bedtime, it can affect the amount of time they spend in rapid eye movement or REM sleep. That’s the type of sleep that makes people feel rested when they get up. To ensure your kids are getting enough of the right type of sleep, instruct them to turn off their electronic devices at least 30 – 60 minutes before they go to bed.

To avoid any of the problems that are too often associated with too much screen time, it’s important to put some parental controls in place for your children’s daily screen time. Regardless of your children’s ages, you should set and enforce some screen time rules that limit screen time for your kids.

Screen Time Guidelines For Kids

The recommended amount of time a child should spend consuming digital media each day varies by age bracket. Respected organizations like the World Health Organization, the Mayo Clinic Children’s Center, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, also known as AAP, have all issued guidelines regarding the recommended amount of permissible screen time for kids by age group. Luckily, all of the guidelines are closely aligned.

The AAP used to advise parents with kids less than two years old to avoid letting their kids have any screen time. Once their kids reached the age of two, the academy recommended that the preschoolers only be allowed two hours of viewing every day. As you’ll see, the AAP adjusted its recommendations in recent years so parents have more leeway in deciding how their kids used their electronic screens.

Recommendations for Children Younger Than 18 Months

Now, the AAP recommends that kids less than 18 months shouldn’t be given any screen time. The exception to that rule is when young children participate in video chats with an adult at their side.

Instead of letting their young kids view digital content, parents of children in this age bracket should focus on playing with their children. Reading to your kids and having as many positive interactions with them as possible should be your top priorities when your kids are this young.

Guidelines for Kids Between 18 and 24 Months

Children between 18 and 24 months should be allowed supervised screen time on a limited basis. Parental co-viewing is essential for children in this age bracket, so you should avoid allowing your kids to consume any digital media on their own.

Educational content is best for kids between 18 and 24 months. Parents are encouraged to stick with high-quality educational programmings like Sesame Street and other TV shows and programs endorsed by Common Sense Media.

Suggestions for Children Ages Two to Five Years

When they’re between the ages of two and five years old, kids’ screen time should be limited, but it can include some recreational screen time. The general rule is to allow kids to enjoy one hour of recreational screen time on weekdays and up to three hours on weekend days.

When young children spend too much of their time using an iPad, television, or computer, it can be difficult if not impossible to engage them in activities that don’t involve electronic devices. If they don’t play with toys, explore the outdoors, and engage with others face-to-face, it can limit the development of their social skills and stifle their creativity and imaginations.

Recommendations for Kids Aged Six and Older

The general consensus is that older children who are at least six should be allowed to manage their own screen time within reason. If you notice that your children’s screen time is starting to interfere with their education, exercise, sleep, or relationships with their friends or family members, it’s time to implement some screen time rules immediately.

Similarly, if your child’s mental health or physical well-being is negatively impacted by their use of electronic devices, you should take immediate action and limit their screen time. In this extreme example, you may want to consider talking to your kid’s pediatrician to identify and establish some age-appropriate parameters that are best for your child.

How to Apply Screen Time Recommendations

While the hours of screen time recommended by respected organizations like the Mayo Clinic Children’s Center are helpful, they’re not the end-all, be-all guidelines many parents wish they were. Instead, they are merely what they’re said to be, recommendations not steadfast rules.

It’s up to parents to limit screen time as they see fit. Although it would be convenient to lay down the law and hope it’s applicable every day, that’s often not the case. The COVID-19 pandemic, for example, has forced parents to allow their kids to increase their screen time to allow for remote learning.

Even less extreme circumstances may lead you to change the rules you have for screen time. It’s easy to allow your children to keep using their electronic devices during long road trips when the alternative is to hear cries of “I’m bored” and entreaties like “Are we there yet?” for hours on end.

Use the Three C’s

If you stop to think about it, setting screen time rules is really a fluid activity, with the rules needing some tweaking as circumstances change. To determine when your children need to unplug on a given day, consider employing the three C’s.

First, consider the content that your kids are consuming. Are they playing violent video games or are they using mindfulness and wellness apps to learn relaxation techniques? In the former case, you may want to ask your kids to unplug ASAP, but in the latter, you might want to allow your kids to continue learning.

The next C is context. Think about how your children have spent the day up to this point. Have you spent quality time interacting as a family or have your kids been using their screens for hours and hours already?

Next, you should consider how your child responds to the media they view on their devices. When they unplug, are they eager to talk about what they viewed and pelt you with questions about the material, or do they get grumpy and withdraw into their own thoughts?

Based on your evaluation of the three C’s, you’ll be able to determine when your kids deserve and can handle some extra screen time. You’ll also be informed enough to decide when it’s in their best interest to unplug.

Act as a Role Model to Set an Example

To help your kids develop a healthy relationship with screen time, you should set an example for them with your own actions. You can spend less time on your devices, particularly when you’re home and you can interact with your kids instead.

You can also demonstrate that screen time doesn’t have to be time spent in isolation. Planning a day of high-quality programming with Let’s Roam is a good place to start. From in-home family scavenger hunts to virtual games nights and more, Let’s Roam has all the tools you need to have some fun with the whole family online. You can even invite relatives who live far away to participate in a virtual game night.

Like Let’s Roam has fun family media online, we also have some less tech-forward options to occupy your family time. One of those options is the Adventures From Scratch: Family Edition. This book has a collection of family-friendly scratch-off adventures that are a blast for kids of all ages.

To get your kids interested in taking on a challenge with you, consider making some extra screen time the reward for whichever child contributes the most to the adventure. That will reinforce the simple truth that screen time is a privilege, not a right just like driving is.

Frequently Asked Questions

Should I monitor what my children view online?

In addition to monitoring kids’ screen time, co-viewing content is strongly recommended. Doing so will show that your care and it will give you an idea of their media use.

Should I factor time in the virtual classroom into my kids’ total daily screen time?

If you want to factor virtual learning into your kids’ screen time, just be sure that they still have ample recreational time online.

What’s a good way to encourage kids to reduce their screen time?

Offering equally exciting adventures will help coax most children away from their devices. For example, family-friendly activities, like Adventures From Scratch, can help reduce kids’ screen time.

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