Healthy Screen Time Limits for the Whole Family

Hollywood versions of futuristic society inevitably include scenes where there are digital screens everywhere broadcasting fantastical consumer messages or providing galactic updates - from an über connected tech apartment, hi-speed transportation pod and more.

In today’s hi-tech world, we are not quite at that level of screen-fever, but we do see and use more and more screens in our daily lives. We have more devices with screens: televisions, iPads, computers, smartphones, ebook readers and so forth. We have more locations to view screens: homes, schools, lobbies, bars, waiting rooms, transport hubs, etc.

With this proliferation of screens, what is a parent to do? How can a responsible digital parent ensure that her children are getting the most of out screen usage while reducing the side effects of too much screen time?

What The Experts Say

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states that “by limiting screen time and offering educational media and non-electronic formats such as books, newspapers and board games, and watching television with their children, parents can help guide their child’s media experience.”

According to the National Institute of Health, allowing your child too much screen time may make it difficult for your child to sleep at night, may raise your child's risk of attention problems, anxiety, and depression and risk of gaining weight.

The AAP also emphatically stated no screen time for children under 2, which led Zero to Three (National Center for Infants, Toddlers and Families) to investigate the necessity of this restriction. In their recently published ‘Screensense: Setting the Record Straight’ Zero to Three contradicts the strict AAP no screen time under 2 rule and advises parents to “establish a healthy “media diet” from the start, as research shows that early programming choices predict later choices, and set future patterns of media viewing.

Did you see the key points? It’s up to you as a parent to guide your child’s media experience, to preserve your child’s health with respect to screen usage and to establish a healthy media diet. (For an excellent article on how tech experts view technology and screen limits for children, read this NY Times article, entitled Steve Jobs Was a Low-Tech Parent.)

Take-Aways: Screen Limits For Children

  • No TV during dinner and limit background TV noise.
  • Avoid using screen time as part of a bedtime routine.
  • Watch screens with your children and make the experience as interactive as possible; comment on what they are seeing, ask questions, encourage them to use their minds.
  • If you use screens to tell a story (via TV, apps, touchscreens), help your child to focus on the story and not on the technology.
  • Decide on how much screen time is appropriate for each child in your family and stick to it.

Take-Aways: Screen Limits For Parents

  • Be a role model for your child and show them how to use technology in a positive manner.
  • Set your own screen limits.
  • Create a nighttime ritual for the entire family from dinner to bedtime – no screens. (I know of one family that puts all handheld devices in a basket not to be seen again until the morning.)
  • Get some quality sleep yourself and shut down all screens an hour before bedtime.
  • Put the smartphone or iPad down when you are with your children so that when they ask you a question, you are really present and listening.
  • Do a digital detox or set a screen-free day for the entire family.

As a good digital parent, you want to show your children the benefits of Internet and technology. You want them to understand all of the opportunities and fun things that they have, just a finger swipe away. But with all good things, you have to set limits. On them, and on you.

Cover image courtesy of Flickr.

Written by

Dr. Elizabeth Milovidov

Dr. Elizabeth Milovidov is a mom to two tech-savvy little boys, a lawyer, law professor and eSafety consultant.

She is a member of the Working Group of experts on Digital Citizenship Education and an independent expert on Digital Parenting and Children and Internet for the Children’s Rights Division of Council of Europe.

She is an advisor on European Cooperation and International Projects for e-Enfance, a French online child protection association providing support to parents and children in the digital age.

Her core work involves researching solutions for parenting in the digital age and she has authored several guides and workbooks for parents, moderates a Facebook community for parents and is the founder of a website and community with resources for parents.