How much is too much screen time for kids? Consider this daily schedule for a 9-year old.
8 AM: Classes begin
10:30 AM: Break
11 - 1:30 PM: Classes again
2 - 4:30 PM: Returns home. Does homework on electronic devices
5 PM: Plays video games online with friends
8 PM: Family TV Time over dinner
10 PM: Goes off to sleep
Sounds familiar? Unfortunately, that’s what the daily itinerary of our kids has become today. The pandemic worsened things. Unable to step outside their homes, kids fell back on screens for entertainment, communication and learning. Parents unhappily gave into the screens as the babysitter-by-default. They had little option, as that was the only way that parents could find the time they needed to do their work. Screens that were a luxury before the pandemic were now a necessity.
As parents, we constantly struggle with the right answer. We’re immersed in self-doubt about how much screen-time is enough for our pre-teen children, and where we should draw the line. Is two hours okay? Or four? or six? How much is too much screen time for kids?
Professional organisations worldwide dealing in the subject matter have shared guidelines on the ideal time limits for kids of different age groups.
Let’s see what they are.
How much screen time is too much?
The American Academy of Paediatrics’ (AAP) issued guidelines on good screen time limits for kids of all age groups that can help.
Screen time limit for babies aged below 18 months
A child’s brain development happens mostly in the first two years of life. The more they interact with their environment and the people around them, the better. Such interaction helps develop their five senses. However, most of the socialisation happens online in this digital century.
It is easier for parents to control the screen time of their infants than older kids. For babies below 18 months of age, AAP recommends that screen time should only be used for interacting with family and friends. Social interaction counts as good screen time.
Screen time limit for babies aged between 18-24 months
Kids between 18 and 24 months of age should have productive screen time for less than an hour. Engaging in digital learning-based apps with our kids counts as good screen time. Turning on a screen when the kids refuse to eat, or don’t let you do your work, counts as counterproductive or bad screen time.
Learning-based apps can offer good screen time activities for the baby. But, the time should be limited to less than an hour daily.
Parents can gradually introduce high-quality programming to their kids for digital activities other than video-calling. This includes watching and playing certain learning-based apps designed specifically for toddlers. Parents can engage in such app-based activities together with the kids to monitor their involvement and time duration.
Screen time for kids aged 2-5 years
AAP says kids in this age group should not be exposed to a screen for more than an hour per day. Two to five years is the age when kids develop physically the most. This is the time when they become intellectually and emotionally aware of their environment and usually pick up their first hobby like music, dance or a sport.
There are times when we have to resort to screens to keep our kids engaged while we complete our daily chores and/or official work. But the duration cannot always be controlled and counts as unproductive or bad screen time. Using screens for social interaction and learning is considered a productive or good screen time activities.
Screen time for 5+ kids and Pre-teens
AAP recommends not more than two hours of screen time per day for this age group. This age group indulges in a lot of digital activities for their schoolwork, learning-based apps, playing and even socialising with friends and family.
JAMA Paediatrics Journal found that “kids’ average daily screen time increased from 53 minutes at age 12 months to more than 150 minutes at 3 years”.
The biggest increase was seen in children born to first-time mothers. As per the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), children between 8-12 years of age spend about 4-6 hours a day on screen. This time duration doubled during the pandemic.
So what can parents do to limit the screen time for their kids? Let’s take a look.
How to Enforce Screen Time Limits?
Parenting is a very challenging task. Losing your temper when your kids don’t obey can easily happen. There are tips that we can use to manage our kids’ screen time, without making a hue and cry.
Be the Idol
Set examples to show the kids how to manage the screen time. Kids pick up their habits from the environment and parents form the first set of examples to learn from. That is why parents who read more have kids who read more.
Asking the kids Why every time they ask if they can watch TV, or play a video game, makes them think of the reason why they want to use the screen and the alternative activities they can do. If they want to engage only because they are bored, you can suggest some other activity that might interest them. It works also when you want to ask them to move away from the screen. If every time you ask them to turn off the TV without giving a proper reason, they might get the impression that you are just trying to be authoritative. In such a case, they might retaliate. Instead, try and explain them why it is necessary to restrict their screen time activities and indulge in physical or outdoor activities.
Set the schedule and time limits
The time limits need to be set for every member of the family. It helps train the kids towards house rules. Your task becomes easier if they understand, for instance, that they are allowed to play games online only for half an hour after completing homework.
No-Screen Days in a week
Try keeping 3-4 days as No Screen Days in a week to make the kids understand that screens are a privilege available only on certain days.
Screen-time as a Reward
Let it be a privilege than a right, but don’t allow your kids to overshoot the suggested screen time limit as a reward.
Plan the Alternatives
Plan alternative activities that can successfully engage the kids. Good alternate options could be outdoor sports, reading books, or playing board games. No screen time should be a fun time for them. If we start nagging them for their messy bedroom or studies the moment they put the screen down, they will find escape routes to engage in digital activities.
Be a part of the activities that you plan for kids. This could be done both during screen and off-screen hours. Engage in some learning-based apps, discuss what they learnt from the TV shows or videos you watched together, or even indulge in what they do with their friends.
No Screens in the Bedroom
The presence of a screen near their bed can entice kids to engage before dozing off and right after waking up. This can lead to many unhealthy habits. Push them away from their bedrooms for good.
No Personal Screens
Don’t give your kids their personal smartphone or tablet until they are old enough to manage their screen time between schoolwork and leisure.
A Family Media Plan
You can find a media time calculator and Family Media Plan creation tool here. It is a useful tool for setting a schedule for kids in different age groups in the family.
Parenting is very challenging. Just knowing what’s best for your child is not enough if it cannot be implemented well. With the dependency on screens increasing every day, we need to train and protect our kids from giving in to screens. Bringing about changes in the family schedule and adopting healthier habits takes time, but these tips from professionals can save the day.