How much screen time children should be allowed is a widely debated topic. Some parents have lax rules for screens and recreational programming, and others are more strict. Aside from how much screen time to permit, parents often wonder how to work the coveted screen time into chore, task, and reward systems. A clear and simple screen time chart can help kids understand that games, apps, and shows are earned privileges, and not rights by nature.
General Guidelines Regarding Screen Time and Children
Parenting is such a deeply personal experience, with everyone putting their own spin on it. It's no wonder that there's conflicting information regarding screen time guidelines. The experts might sometimes disagree on how much screen time a child should have in a day, but they do all seem to agree that screen time allotment depends on the age and development of the child.
Guidelines for Children Two and Younger
Before age 2, screen time should be heavily minimized. Patricia Kuhl, one of the world's leading brain scientists, agrees with the consensus that babies don't need any screen time at all. She is quick to remind parents, who might say, "Well, what about educational shows and programs?" that babies do not learn from machines. By nature, babies learn from other human beings.
Guidelines for Children Ages Two to Five
Children ages two through five can enjoy a small amount of screen time, with the general recommendation falling around one hour or less. Programs should have some educational value during this development stage, and parents need to be heavily involved in what kids are exposed to.
Guidelines for Children Over Age Five
For children over the age of five, recommended recreational screen time should stay below two hours per day. As children enter the structured educational realm, they may have more screen time exposure; but this component is learning-based and does not necessarily count as the two hours or less of time indicated.
Consider creating restrictions for children well into their teenage years. The guideline is that their growing brains should also receive under two hours of recreational screen time per day. It is important to note that teenagers might utilize screen time for social means, not mindless program engagement. Staying socially connected during the teenage years is critical, so parents need to be conscious of how teens use their recreational screen time, and they might consider adjusting allotments accordingly.
Screen Time Is a Privilege to Be Earned
Many parents tie the use of screen time into tasks or chores that have to be completed. The concept behind behavior charts and chore charts is that tasks are completed, and a reward is given. To be effective, the reward must be motivating to the child. If your kid loves apps, movies, and screen time, it might make sense to have this activity be the reward itself. Keeping track of chores or tasks and the completion of them is key to any reward system. A simple screen time chart will help kids know what their responsibilities are, and the clear reward for completing certain tasks.
Possible Pitfalls of Excessive Screen Time
The suggested guidelines might seem too strict for many parents who rely on screen time for a few minutes of peace and quiet during the hectic day. Is there any true harm to allowing excessive screen time for kids? The experts think there could be.
Excessive screen time is common in this day and age. One study found that kids ages eight to 18 engaged with recreational screen programs for nearly eight hours per day, far beyond the recommendation. It is evident that households are allowing those screens to run nearly all day, so what are the dangers of this behavior?
Children in their elementary years who watch more than two hours of television per day are more likely to exhibit behavioral issues, have emotional problems and have poor social skills.
Children who have televisions in their bedroom, or access to programs in their bedroom via other screen modes, tend to do more poorly in their academic studies and on tests.
Increased Risk of Obesity
Increased time in front of a television screen fosters a more sedentary lifestyle for youth, where they become less physically engaged in activities that would benefit their health. A sedentary lifestyle can lead to obesity and other obesity-related health concerns.
Sleep Pattern Disruption
While many parents turn to screen time before bed, thinking it might be a quiet activity to help kids transition into slumber, screens can negatively affect the sleep patterns of children. The blue light emitted by screens can interfere with sleep cycles, leading to higher risks of insomnia.
Rules to Instill During Screen Time
Instill simple rules to help children understand that limitations and boundaries must be followed when it comes to using devices and watching television. When allowing screens for recreational use in your home, try to:
- Set a good example. If you want your child to value non-screen activities, you must also work to limit your own screen time.
- Have "no screen" areas in your home, such as no screens in cars or beds or at mealtime.
- Set a timer so children know when screen time is complete.
- Give kids fair warning before screen time ends. Offer a five or 10-minute warning.
- Gather devices when screen time is not in session. Store them away, out of sight, out of mind.
- Always monitor which programs your children are watching, which websites they are visiting, and their activity on social media accounts.
Screen Time Isn't All Bad News
Screens get a bad rap, but when used responsibly and in moderation, not all screen time for kids is bad. There are some actual benefits to allowing minimal screen time in your home. Benefits of allowing screen time in moderation include:
- Some programs have educational value for kids.
- Navigating the internet and technology can help children in their future schooling and learning.
- Video game participation can increase fine motor skills and problem-solving capabilities.
- When screen time is paired with parents or siblings, togetherness is created and promoted.
Parents: You Are the Boss of the Screens
When it comes to kids and screen time, remember parents: You are the boss! You can choose to follow the screen time guidelines to a tee, or choose your own screen time rules. You might tie earning screen time into requests that you have for your children, or choose not to make it something they have to work for. The parenting journey is uniquely yours, and every aspect of it, screen time included, is truly your decision to make.