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How to Limit Your Child’s Screen Time

Study links high levels of screen time to slower child development | Children | The Guardian


While unlimited time with electronics may keep your child busy, you don't want them to have too much screentime. That said, setting limits on TV and video games for kids isn't always easy in today's screen-filled world. Here are 10 tips parents can use to decide how much screentime is reasonable for their kids.

Model Healthy Electronic Use

Parents need to be role models of screen use for their kids.1 Before you binge-watch your favorite Netflix series, remember that you are setting an example for your kids with your own time spent in front of a screen.

Keeping the TV on for background noise all the time or scrolling through your phone any time you have a spare minute may not be modeling the screen-related behavior you hope to see in your kids.

Educate Yourself on Electronics

Today’s kids are tech-savvy. Most of them know more about electronics than adults do. Parents need to stay up-to-date on the latest apps, games, and social media platforms, and trends.

For example, you can't teach your child about the risks of social media unless you understand the dangers yourself. Likewise, you wouldn't be able to prevent them from consuming certain types of media (such as violent video games) if you don't understand how these forms of media are rated.2

Create “Technology-Free Zones”

Establish zones in your house where electronics simply are not allowed—whether it's cell phones, handheld video games, or laptops. 3 One example is your home's dining room or kitchen, which you could keep reserved for having meals and family conversations.

Set Aside Times to Unplug

Set aside times for your whole family to unplug from their technological devices.3 Dinnertime or an hour before bedtime are two examples. When you all agree to set aside your devices, it gives your family the opportunity to spend thoughtful, quality time together.

You might consider doing a longer family digital detox, such as over a school break or vacation.4

Use Parental Controls

There are tools you can use to protect your kids from accessing explicit content on the Internet and on TV.5 Most routers, web browsers, and TVs have parental controls that you can set up to filter or block unwanted content.

If your kids have smartphones, there are also built-in settings or apps you can download that allow you to create content filters. Many also allow you to block specific websites, web searches, or even keywords.

Explain Why You're Limiting Screen Time

If your kids understand that you're limiting your family's screen time because too much time spent on screens has downsides, they're much more likely to follow the rules you set. If your kids just think you're "being mean," they might be more likely to resist or break the rules you are trying to enforce.

Based on what's appropriate for your child's age, explain why violent videogames, TV shows, and movies can be harmful.6 If your kids use the Internet, make sure you have a conversation with them about the dangers of online predators.

Make sure that every member of your family is included in the discussion about screen time and are part of creating a set of boundaries that everyone can follow.

Ask for Your Child’s Passwords

You might want to consider asking your kids for the passwords to their online and social media accounts. Kids don't always have the maturity necessary to handle online interactions and can be vulnerable to cyberbullying.7

You'll need to discuss the option as a family, but it will be up to you as the parent to figure out the best way to help protect your child while still allowing them to have some privacy and autonomy.

Encourage Other Activities

With a wealth of apps, games, devices, and content, it's easy for kids to become reliant on electronics for entertainment. Encourage your child to seek out and get involved in activities that don't need a screen.8 Playing outside, reading a book, or even digging out an old boardgame are just a few ideas.

It can also help to establish (and enforce) a schedule that everyone in your home follows. Making it clear to your kids when they are allowed on screens and when they are not will help to clarify your expectations and can prevent arguments.

Make Screen Time a Privilege

You might decide to make screen time a privilege rather than a right. If you use a form of discipline that involves taking away privileges (negative consequences), a child's phone, laptop, or video game might be one such privilege.9

However, once you’ve set a limit on how much screen time is allowed, don’t allow kids to earn extra time as a reward. Instead, stick to the daily limit and offer other free or low-cost rewards to reinforce positive behavior.

Encouraging your kids to buy into less screen time and screen-free zones will be much easier if you engage with them in a positive, fun, and authentic way. They're more likely to resort to screen time to escape if you are constantly reminding them about their messing room or a difficult school assignment during no screen time.

Keep Your Child’s Bedroom Screen-Free

You won't be able to monitor your child's screen use if they are able to use devices out of your sight.3 For this reason, you might want to make it a rule that TVs, video game systems, and computers are not allowed in your child's bedroom. This also includes handheld devices that your kids might be tempted to use late at night, which could interfere with their sleep.



By Amy Morin, LCSW Updated on September 17, 2020 Medically reviewed by Ann-Louise T. Lockhart, PsyD, ABPP
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