How Much Screen Time Should I Let My Kids Have?

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Is screen time going to harm my child?

Working as a clinical psychologist treating children, parents bring up a lot of their concerns in my practice. Recently, one of the most common topics of discussion is screen time. Parents are unsure what spending time in front of screens will do for their children: whether digital environments can promote learning or will melt their kids’ brains. 

Although the average parent spends about nine and a half hours a day in front of screens themselves, many parents intuitively know that an excessive amount of screen time isn’t good for their kids. In search of answers, however, navigating the available advice on screen time can be pretty confusing. Some believe that children are fine with complete, unlimited access to screens, while others oppose it completely, claiming that children do best with no exposure at all. From a different perspective, some support teaching kids autonomy around their screen use, claiming that providing kids with choices allows them to make healthy decisions for themselves. Others believe that screen time overly stimulates children’s nervous systems and has a noticeable negative impact on their brains. With all of this contradictory information, how can parents do well by the needs of their children?

Generally, most experts propose more balanced and realistic positions on screen time. Setting some limits around screens while recognizing the importance of digital literacy om the lives of 21st-century children will be an ever-changing task, with ongoing adjustments based on your child’s unique development, needs, and behaviors. Frankly, even experts who argue for highly restricting screen time are realizing that screen-based technologies are integrated into education and most career fields, being an almost necessary feature of general life. 

Technology can offer robust learning opportunities if used mindfully!

At LearningWorks for Kids, we have long supported the use of digital technologies as effective tools for children to learn. The key is to integrate technology mindfully and responsibly. The adults in a child’s life, such as parents, educators, and other caretakers, should be engaged along with them and on the same page. Instead of framing screen restriction as a punishment, it is our perspective that setting limits is done best by encouraging other types of activities. Developing a healthy Play Diet in which children are supported in their engagement with physical, social, creative, and unstructured play allows for digital play to be an important aspect of their lives. The allure of technology is powerful in its vibrancy and convenience, so having guidance and awareness around structuring a child’s play diet is important. 

While we at LearningWorks for Kids feel that a healthy and balanced Play Diet is the best approach to limiting screen time for  21st-century kids, there are plenty of different approaches to building healthy relationships between kids and their screens. Each child is different, so taking factors such as developmental issues, family culture, and community into consideration is essential. When structuring your child’s Play Diet, ask yourself: what are my child’s mental and physical health concerns? What is my realistic capacity to monitor limits? What are my child’s unique sense of interests? I encourage parents to explore a variety of perspectives and experiment with what works best for their families.

Some articles and websites that offer both alternative and complementary views to LearningWorks for Kids include:

Healthy Digital Media Use – Raising Screen-Smart Kids by Clifford Sussman, M.D. in Attention Magazine. 

Describes the importance of healthy technology habits for the entire family. Sussman has also created videos to help parents understand Internet and video game addiction.

5 Myths About Screen Time by Patrick Coleman of Fatherly. 

Describes concerns that the light and sounds from technology can have a more detrimental impact on kids than the content of their media consumption.

10 Ways to Limit Your Child’s Screen Time by Amy Morin, LCSW. 

As an expert in developing mental strengths, Ms. Moran posits that parents need to assert themselves in their children’s screen-time use and suggests strategies including making screen time a privilege and obtaining children’s passwords.

Healthy Screen Time Use by Raising Children Network. 

Based in Australia, this site offers great developmental information about healthy screen time for preschoolers, elementary-aged kids, preteens, and teens.

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