How Much Screen Time Should You Allow Your Child?

Technology is changing the way today’s kids and teens, also known as the iGen, spend a lot of time fiddling with smartphones, tapping away at tablets, and staring at TV screens. They are now living in a world dominated by devices and unlimited access to the web.  Many parents want to know how much time their children should be spending in front of screens, whether it’s their phones, computers, tablets, or video games so that their behavior is not drastically changed.

The American Heart Association is warning us that children are spending way too much time in front of screens, and it encourages parents to limit the hours their kids are allowed to use their devices.

When it comes to the number of hours a child should spend buried in front of a screen, is there a magic number that’s “just right”?

Recommended Screen Time

It seems that as kids grow, their screen time tends to grow with them. According to a report released in 2017 by Common Sense Media children in the U.S. spend the following amount of time each day using digital devices:

  • Kids under 2 years of age spend on average 42 minutes per day
  • Kids ages 2 to 4: 2.5 hours per day
  • Children ages 5 to 8: spend an average of nearly 3 hours per day
  • For 8- to 12-year-olds, the average time spent using screen media every day was 4 hours and 36 minutes,

Trying to help families curb kids’ use, organizations around the globe like the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have suggested various screen limit guidelines.

For most parents in the digital age, battles over screen time have become part of family life as a result knowing how much is too much has become a moving target.

For years, the American Academy of Pediatrics (APP) had suggested a limit of two hours a day of TV for children and teens. However, as time passed, these guidelines have updated to the following recommendations:

  • For children younger than 18 months, avoid use of screen media other than video-chatting. Parents of children 18 to 24 months of age who want to introduce digital media should choose high-quality programming and watch it with their children to help them understand what they’re seeing.
  • For children ages 2 to 5 years, limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programs. Parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them.
  • For children ages 6 and older, place consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health.
  • Designate media-free times together, such as dinner or driving, as well as media-free locations at home, such as bedrooms.
  • Have ongoing communication about online citizenship and safety, including treating others with respect online and offline.

AAP doesn’t offer official guidelines for ages above 6, but the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology recommends children aged 5 to 11 years should limit their recreational screen time to 2 hours a day, with lower amounts showing health benefits.

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Screen Usage Stats

According to the research conducted by Barna Group for Andy Crouch’s book The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place: 

  • 64% of school age children watch television or movies after school, regardless of their age group. 
  • Almost half of kids ages 9–17 play video games, 48% of children between 14 and 17 years spend their free time on social media or texting with friends.
  • One in four teens spend time browsing online.

Another study done by the American Academy of Pediatrics has revealed that:

  • One in 20 kids meets the sleep, exercise, and screen time recommendations while almost one third are outside guidelines for all three.

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, just released new numbers on media use. They have concluded that:

  • 98% of homes with children now have a mobile device. The number has skyrocketed raising more than 40 % in just six years. 
  • 42% of young children own their own tablet device
  • Nearly half of kids 8 or less use screens in the hour before bedtime
  • 40% of the families with children keep the TV always ON regardless of whether or not anyone is watching 

As for what studies on the subject of screen time have shown, a studying involving 854 high school students showed that each hour per day spent watching TV, using the internet, or playing video games was associated with lower grades with TV being the most detrimental.  Conversely, each hour spent doing homework and reading resulted in significantly higher grades.  However, more than 4 hours of homework started being detrimental.

After searching for the “optimal” amount of hours to allow a child screen time in countless studies, they all show that the less screen time children have, the better their academic performances are.  Obviously children need to use screens for homework on occasion, but parents need to judge for themselves the proper amount of recreational screen time to allow their child based on their child’s current performance and behaviors, and that amount of time should not be more than 2 hours.

The Dangers of Too Much Screen Time on Kids

Digital devices have become ubiquitous in the lives of our kids. New research has found negative associations if excessive leisure time is devoted to them. Here are just a few of negative side-effects that too much screen time can have on your children:

Obesity – Sedentary activities such as playing computer games and watching TV are considered to be a risk factor for becoming overweight, contributing to the global obesity epidemic.

Sleep problems – Screen time could be negatively influencing sleep in many ways. The blue light emitted from screens interferes with the body’s internal clock. The use of these devices cuts into the time that children would normally be preparing for bed, leading to delays in the time that kids and adolescents go to bed and, consequently, reducing the overall duration of sleep.

Damaged eyesight A study published in the journal PLOS revealed that school-aged kids that stay glued seven hours or more per week using computers or mobile video games have tripled their risk for myopia or nearsightedness.

Behavior problems – It doesn’t take much electronic stimulation to throw a sensitive and still-developing brain off track. Elementary school-age children that use a blue light device over two hours per day are prone to have emotional, social, and attention problems. 

Developmental problems Researchers have pointed out in a report in JAMA Pediatrics that a heavy screen use can hold back the development of young children. Writing in the journal Jama Pediatrics, the team of Canadian psychologists led by Dr Sheri Madigan from the University of Calgary, concluded that almost 25% of school age children show some degree of deficient or delayed development in problem solving, interpersonal skills, and physical coordination.

Dangers that come with the internet and social media – Cyberbullying, online predators, decreased mental health- the list goes on

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Ways to Limit Child’s Screen Time

If you’re concerned about your children abusing screens, here are some tips that will help you limit your child’s screen time to a reasonable, healthy amount. 

Set Aside Times to Unplug – you can consider choosing a day or more when TV or other technology is not allowed. 

Create “Technology-Free Zones” – Establish zones in your house where you children are not allowed to use their smartphone, tablets, or laptops such as the dining room.

Encourage Other Activities – Have activities available to distract your kids from the technology, make sure to provide the necessary resources for alternate activities. Such as books to read, board games, art supplies, and sporting equipment.

Set Rules and Stick to them – Knowing what the right balance of screen time is can be difficult for parents to assess as we have discussed. You can set weekly screen-time limits by using the media time calculator offered by the American Academy of Pediatrics that can help you determine appropriate limits, taking into account a child’s age, sleep habits, and other activities.

Limit the kinds of screens kids can use – You can easily control the devices your kids use by keeping game consoles and other similar devices in a communal space such as a family room.

Use parental control apps such as MMGuardian to enforce these standards and set guidelines on the types of activities they can do or programs they can watch.  If you’re not convinced that using software on their phones is necessary, we’ve discussed the subject in-depth in another blog post.

MMGuardian is an app dedicated to ensuring that your child uses their phone in the most responsible and safest way possible.  It allows you to set schedules for when your child can and cannot use their phone, as well as set limits for daily app use.  MMGuardian also provides a large number of other features such as usage and SMS text message reporting, priority alerts for serious topics such as sexting, suicide, drugs, etc, inappropriate picture detection, app control, location, contact blocking, and much more! There is also an iPhone version of the MMGuardian child app with different features that pairs very well with Apple’s built in iPhone parental controls called Screen Time. You can learn more about the iPhone version by clicking here.

To get started with MMGuardian for Android or iPhone and receive a 14-day free trial, click here.

Consider also joining our Facebook group “Tech-Savvy Parenting” to discuss raising kids in the 21st century with other parents.

By using the MMGuardian app, you can take the first step in helping your children become calmer, stronger, and happier.

Explore MMGuardian’s features as an android parental control app and as a parental control app for iPhone.

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