From a young age, screens are a fixture in most children’s lives. But allowing them to watch television or have access to phones or tablets regularly doesn’t necessarily mean it will harm their development. The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health say there’s no good evidence that spending time in front of a screen is toxic to children’s health. After all, doing something creative or learning new skills is quite different from simply scrolling on social media. But it is still important to make sure that you find the right balance that works for your family.
If you think screen time in your household is negatively impacting your children, here are some things you can do to help limit their screen time.
Signs of too much screen time
Keep an eye on how your children’s digital time may affect other areas of their lives. If they are spending a good amount of quality time with their friends and getting enough exercise and sleep, they likely have a healthy balance.
Talk to your child regularly about what they are doing during their screen time and encourage them to think about how it makes them feel when they are doing it. They may even agree that staying up late gaming makes them feel tired the next day at school or that scrolling through social media so much affects their self-esteem. If so, that’s a good time to discuss the amount of screen time they’re getting.
How to support children with screen time
There are many practical ways you can help influence a change in the way your children use screens.
- Know what they do online and why they enjoy it so you can build up your understanding of the risks and rewards they get from these activities
- Model the behavior you would like to see in them
- Be actively engaged with your kids on some of the activities they are doing online, whether it’s gaming or watching their favourite vlogger
- Unplug as a family to encourage your children to have a balanced view of technology
- Find apps, websites, and games together to help give children a way to explore their passions and boost their skills safely
- Create a family agreement that outlines expectations of how online platforms and screen time is used and why
- Look for apps that encourage and complement children’s physical activity
- Be ready to suggest good alternatives to screen time that your kids will enjoy if it’s time for them to come off or if they are bored. For instance, if your kids like arts and crafts have a box stocked up with paper, duct tape, glitter and anything else they need to hand.
There are also some simple tools you can use to help you manage your kids’ screen time:
- Make good use of parental control tools on your child’s devices to set digital boundaries together, helping them get the best out of their screen time
- Use the night settings on smartphones to reduce the amount of blue light given off by the screen during the evenings, which can help children sleep better
- Switch off all notifications on their phone to limit distractions when they are doing other things
- Switch off autoplay to help them self-regulate how long they spend on the particular apps.
You know your children better than anyone, so it shouldn’t be too difficult for you to determine how much is too much when it comes to screen time. But if the time they spend on their digital devices isn’t interfering with their schoolwork or their other activities and isn’t affecting their sleep or mood, there’s probably no need to worry.