Screen time for kids — a guide for monitoring a child’s screen time
Published: August 08, 2018 3 min read
Too much “screen time” — the catchall term for time spent using devices, television and video games — can have negative effects on kids.
On any given day, your kid may scroll through a handful of social media feeds, watch TV, check out a few online videos, and listen to music. A certain amount of media use is normal, but if you have to pry away your kid’s iPad every night at the dinner table, it may be time for a change.
Too much “screen time” — the catchall term for time spent using devices, television and video games — can negatively affect cognitive function, sleep, social skills, and health, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
The problem isn't isolated to kids. Adults are also developing unhealthy screen-time habits. (When’s the last time you checked your phone?) But you can help your family balance digital and real life by becoming more mindful of their daily and weekly screen habits and monitoring your own along the way.
Screen time for kids: Healthy recommendations
On average, screen time takes up more than six hours a day for teens and more than four hours a day for younger kids, according to a Common Sense Media study. Recognizing that media can play an important role in learning, the AAP recommends limiting screen time for young children to less than two hours per day.
When it comes to older children, teens and adults, the focus shifts to choosing quality screen-time activities rather than setting time limits. Generally, screen time shouldn't replace forming real-life interactions, getting enough sleep, and engaging in regular physical activity, the AAP says.
Screen time recommendations by age
Young children may watch screens all day if you let them, so it’s important to set limits. Here are some general screen time recommendations by age, provided by the AAP, that your entire family can follow.
Under 18 months: Limit screen time to occasional video-chatting
Babies need hands-on exploration and social interaction to learn and develop crucial skills, the AAP says. Focus your baby's attention on interactive playtime, toys, and books, instead of screens. The exception: Occasional video chatting, while you're present, can help your baby form social connections with long-distance family friends and relatives.
18–24 months: Keep screen time limited, and always watch with your kids
If you choose to introduce media to your toddler, then educational programs, including video chatting and interactive touch screens, can help them learn words, according to the AAP. But here’s the critical factor: An adult should always co-watch and reteach the content. And when selecting media, avoid fast-paced programs and apps with a lot of distracting or violent content.
2–5 years: Stay involved and keep screen time to one hour per day
Educational programs continue to boost young children's cognitive, literacy and social skills from ages 2 to 5. Limit screen time to one hour or less per day, and help your kids understand what they're watching and how it applies to their everyday lives. Many skills necessary for lifelong success are best taught through social — not digital — play, so be sure to mix in playdates and outdoor freetime.
6 years and older: Set reasonable limits to make sure digital screens don’t replace real-life interactions and physical activity
As your kids get older, help them become mindful of the media they use and the amount of time they spend consuming it. Make a family plan that defines different types of media use and consistently limits the time your kids spend using phones, TV, and computers.
How to keep track of your child’s screen time
It’s important to keep tabs on your kids’ viewing habits from an early age and monitor how they react to media. There are noteworthy variations between passive screen time, such as watching YouTube videos or browsing websites, and other types of screen time, such as playing interactive games, communicating with friends with social media, or using devices to write, create art, or code. Here are some ways to track your kids’ media usage:
Norton Family Premier’s time supervision feature allows you to monitor the time your kids spend on their devices, so you can help them develop healthy consumption habits. This feature also allows parents to schedule specific viewing times and set daily limits on the devices that may be taking up way too much of your kid’s attention, and detract from their social and physical well-being.
Use social media tracking features
Some social media apps allow you to monitor usage and create alerts when you've hit a preset amount of time. Set up these features in your accounts and your kid's accounts, too. In addition, some devices offer a setting that allows you to track your weekly screen time.
Track media use manually
Use a timer and a hand-drawn chart to track your family's media use. Your kids can fill in the details, which helps them become more mindful about the amount of time they spend using media and how they can regulate it. The downside to this approach is that it’s based on the honor system and will demand extra time to track the details.
How to limit screen time for kids
Discuss the benefits and drawbacks as a family
Including your kids in the conversation on screen time — which allows them to ask questions and give their opinions on the issue — can go a long way toward getting them to agree to limitations. Screen-time restriction can be used as both a punishment and as part of a healthy lifestyle, so explain the difference and talk about why screen time limits are a good idea. You can explain some of the benefits of using devices, such as for school research and keeping up with long-distance friends, and some of the drawbacks of excessive use, such as developing poor health and social habits.
Create a family screen time contract
A contract that explains your family’s reasons for limiting screen time and the terms you’ve agreed to will help set clear expectations and hold all family members accountable for sticking to screen time rules.
In the contract, you can define what's considered “screen time.” For instance, using an app to track exercise or read an article is different from going on a 30-minute Facebook binge. The contract should also designate media-free time, such as at the dinner table, while driving, and one hour before bedtime, and set media-free locations in the home, such as in bedrooms or the dining room. You can also use a token system, where you give your kid tokens that each represent a certain amount of screen time. Kids cash them in whenever they want during the week.
Set your own screen time limits
Adults spend more than 11 hours a day interacting with media, according to a 2018 Nielsen report. Your child will likely mimic your media use, so it's important to be a good screen-time role model. Track your hours of screen time use and try to limit them. Spend time reading, exercising, and engaging in meaningful friendships offline, and consider getting your kids involved in some of your favorite activities. When they have activities in mind, their default may less likely be to flip open a device.
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