For today’s parents, screen time is really a two-edged sword when it comes to raising kids.
In one sense, smartphones, tablets, and TVs offer a reliable, convenient way to keep kids occupied during downtime. It’s like a free pass, allowing grown-ups to kick back and relax for a few precious hours now and then.
On the flip side, kids tend to overdo it on screen time, spending hours a day on social media or games that may distract them from real life or potentially lead to problems both physical and mental. Studies are clear: too much screen time is harmful to us all, especially young people.
An added dilemma is the role of screens as a mandatory part of life for kids at younger ages. These technologies are growing more necessary in many aspects of children’s social lives and educations, so we can’t just pull the plug without some actual consequences.
With all that said, let’s set out to discover just how much screen time is appropriate for kids at different stages of development, why it’s important to set limitations, and a few techniques you can implement as a parent to get screen time under control moving forward.
Recommended Screen Time By Age
Let’s face it – kids these days are going to use screens to some degree, whether it’s to be educated, entertained, or socially connected. The question is how much screen time is appropriate, which will differ by age and situation. Here are some recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics for the right amount of screen time for certain age groups, plus some tips for parents as they navigate challenges in real time.
Under 2 Years Old
For kids under the age of 2 years, it’s your responsibility as a parent to keep screen time exposure to an absolute minimum. These are very formative years for children. Their prime focus at this time should be on gaining familiarity with the world around them in a tactile sense, engaging directly with parents and loved ones, and developing things like motor skills, mobility, and language recognition. Media use should only be used during these early stages when parents are present and facilitating the experience, whether it’s an educational TV show or interactive game. Under an hour of screen time per day is best for children of this age, and they should never be left unattended with phones, laptops, or other devices.
Between 2 and 5
Young children will begin to wise up and gain more autonomy – as well as curiosity – during this timeframe. This will be accompanied by a greater desire for screen use time and exploration of what technology can do. Parents should start keeping a closer eye on browsing activity at this time, and try to keep screen time to under two hours per day if possible. Content quality is also a huge factor here, and parents are obligated to make sure that kids are avoiding “junk” material like video games, cartoons, and other categories that are addictive and detract from their online experience overall. While parents are recommended to be present while kids are in front of a screen at this age, some parents may feel comfortable allowing kids to control devices with the proper restrictions in place.
5 and Up
Kids over the age of 5 will be expected to use computers and other electronic devices for school, and even if parents have done a good job of limiting screen time thus far, this can present issues. Around the age of five, “digital native” kids will also be highly familiar with different devices and apps, and may even have a social element tied into screen time with other kids their age. This is when parents will need to step up their restrictions and monitoring programs if they sense that kids are spending too much time with screens, or if screen time is interfering with their children’s physical activity in any way. It’s also important that parents and kids discuss screen and internet usage openly, rather than turning it into a taboo subject or something to hide. This will allow both parents and kids to feel more comfortable about sensitive issues about technology as it relates to education, entertainment, socialization, and other parts of a child’s experience growing up.
Middle School, High School and Beyond
As kids get older and take ownership over devices like phones and computers, parents may start to feel that the screen time situation is beyond their control. Teens especially are heavily reliant on screen time in the modern world, and many parents simply allow their older children to do whatever they please as young adults who should “figure things out for themselves”. Giving up is not the right course of action, obviously. Parents can still implement strict rules and limitations on screen time, as well as the type of content kids access. Parents must also be ready to have tough conversations and intervene if they sense kids are using the internet in a dangerous way that may be harmful to themselves, friends, or other family members. We’ll soon pinpoint some useful parental controls tools that will make this experience more manageable and less stressful for everyone involved.
Screen Time Ground Rules
Need some help setting rules for kids as they start spending more time on screens? Apply these three golden rules to make sure kids maintain a healthy balance between reality and screen time growing up.
Put Real Life First
Real life should always take precedent over the virtual world, no matter what age your kid may be. Encourage them to engage in real-world activities like sports, arts, or just get them interacting with others in-person rather than online. The most successful screen-time management strategies strike a balance of time spent on digital and real-life experiences, and leading by example (yes, you!) is key to setting the trend from the start.
Even if you have an open and trusting connection with your kids and how they use technology, it’s wise to monitor their activity and ensure that screen time (and unwanted content) doesn’t become a problem at an early age. There are many ways to monitor online behavior, including time spent on certain apps, browsing patterns on search engines, and where they hang out on social media. Establish early on that you want to keep your kids safe and secure online, and that you are the one setting the rules from the beginning. Keeping everything in the open is the best way to monitor and enforce rules, rather than taking a sneaky or behind-the-scenes approach like some parents choose to do.
Create Custom Plans
Each kid in your family is a different age, with unique screen time patterns, and preferences for how they use tech in general. A cookie-cutter list of rules for everyone does not make sense. That’s why you should establish custom plans for each member of your family, from Pre-K kids to Middle School students, and beyond. Thankfully, setting up individual profiles for every network-connected device is quite easy if you have the right infrastructure in place – we’ll discuss that next.
Tools and Resources to Limit Screen Time
Let’s get into the practical tips and tools to help you set strong ground rules and actually enforce them among your family to keep screen time under control – in a healthy way.
In-App and Device-Based Settings
Every screen-based device comes with user settings that parents can configure to their liking, often including some basic parental controls out of the box. Smartphones, tablets, even video game consoles – take a moment to set up each device by creating dedicated “administrative accounts” followed by accounts for kids with certain limitations. Not all apps will have time limits or similar features, but content filtering is still a must.
Parental Controls Routers
Application and device-based settings will only take you so far in your efforts to limit screen time. Therefore, more parents are implementing specific time-limitation controls at the network level, giving them an unprecedented level of insight and control. These high-level controls – which come standard with the most advanced Wi-Fi hardware – are engineered for precise transparency into where, when, and how much your kids are using their devices on the home network. You get everything you need as a parent to monitor screen time for all of your kids and every device they use. It’s not just monitoring, either. You can set limits on access when it’s time to turn the screens off, or suspend the internet altogether for family dinner or homework time. With the strongest network-based parental controls, you can effectively fight against the hazards of too much screen time for your kids, while maintaining healthy, positive relationships at home.
Don’t Let Screen Time Take Over
It’s easy to go overboard with screen time these days, and it’s not just kids who deal with this issue! Parents must equip themselves with the right mindset, strong principles, and the best available router controls to make sure screens play a positive role, rather than detract from the family experience.