Knowing how to manage kids’ screen time is a subject that worries many of us. So it’s no surprise that an Ofcom survey has found over 40% of parents find it hard to control screen time for their kids. With experts saying there is not enough research and evidence to recommend a threshold, here's how to work out how much is too much.
What is classed as screen time?
Screen time is the amount of time spent on a phone, tablet, device, computer, television or games console. According to the latest Screen Time study in 2022, Brits spend 13 hours and 2 minutes looking at screens daily (factoring in work and leisure time). When calculated over a year, each person spends 198 days each year with their eyes locked on a screen! As for kids across all age groups, they spend over 7 hours a day on screens (including entertainment, social and academic). This breaks down to 1.8 hours of TV-watching, 1.4 hours gaming, 2 hours on a mobile phone, and 2 hours on the internet.
Guidelines for screen time for kids
It’s difficult to assess how much screen time is appropriate for kids, as there is not enough evidence to create a reliable guide. This is why the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health says they can’t recommend a cutoff. Instead, their advice is to set limits based on whether screen use interferes with other activities in your child's life (see below). As a general guide, here's what other experts say about screen time recommendations by age in the UK.
3-4 years old
Many of us hand smartphones or tablets over to our little ones to buy us peace and quiet. The good news is that for children aged 3 to 5 years, their average screen time has not significantly changed over the past 17 years. According to a study published in JAMA Paediatrics, the age group logged 2.5 hours daily in front of a screen (including TV). The World Health Organisation says kids in this age range should have at most an hour of screen time daily.
5-7 years old
According to Internet Matters, 82% of children aged 5 to 7 years are online for almost 1 hour a day, with 7 out of 10 watching YouTube and 63% playing games online. So it's not surprising that a third of parents say they have to fight for their child's attention and over a quarter of parents say it impacts completing homework. The NHS and the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommend an upper limit of two hours per day.
8 - 12 years old
In this age range, kids typically become engaged in gaming, mainly Minecraft and Roblox, which increases their screen time. Ofcom estimates that the average consumption for this group is nearly 2 hours a day, which is also the NHS recommended upper limit for this group.
A new study from Trinity College in Dublin says that online engagement is now a normal form of social participation for teens. For this reason, it's important to strike a healthy balance between the high usage your teen craves and the limited usage parents want. Sixty-two per cent of parents of teens aged 14 to 17 years report that their children generally spend more than 4 hours a day on the screen. Here’s how to manage your teen’s screen time.
Risks of too much screen time
Disrupted sleep patterns
Becoming angry when asked to turn devices off
An inability to wind down after gaming
Slipping behind on homework
Being too sedentary due to screen time
Feeling panicked when their device is taken away
Problems with concentration
A lack of offline experiences
Communicating less with the family
How to manage your child's screen time
As the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health say, managing your child's screen time is about looking at how their usage affects the above areas of their lives. Once you can see how screen time affects them, you can start making changes and talking to your child about how and why screen time needs to be managed. For more tips on how to do this, see How to manage your kids' screen time.
Healthy ways for your kid to get the most out of screen time
Make use of educational apps. Age-appropriate, interactive and engaging learning apps make learning fun and accessible. Ensure the games and apps your child plays are all of the above (see our list of the Best Online Educational Resources).
Suggest ideas to them. Don't be afraid to suggest ideas to them for good games to play, streaming services to watch, and apps to try. If you can link these to their school curriculum, all the better.
Play their games with them. Part of the worry with screen time is that kids are isolating themselves from you. If this is your worry, ask to play games with them. Or ask if you can watch what they are playing online.
Ask what they do online. It's easy to assume that your kids are looking at nonsense, but younger kids tend to watch and learn from the programmes and games they play. In comparison, older kids are highly social on devices, messaging friends simultaneously and using platforms to learn more about their interests.
Create tech-free zones and times, such as during mealtime. Also, set daily screen time limits and curfews, such as no exposure to devices one hour before bedtime and no phones on at night.
Are there any benefits to screen time?
Better friendships. Educational aspects aside, a new study published in Plos One found no strong links between screen time and depression or anxiety and screen time is, instead, linked to improved peer relations.
Stronger cognitive skills. In another study published by the American Psychological Association, video games improved hand-eye coordination and may strengthen cognitive skills such as spatial navigation, reasoning, memory and perception.
Are there any apps that can help?
While setting limits with your child and sticking to them is always the best way to manage screen time, there are parental control apps that can help manage screen time, especially when you aren't around.
OurPact lets you block apps and set screen time limits. It also has a feature allowing you to control your child's device remotely. Kids Zone is another one that blocks apps and sets screen time limits. You can also set up parental controls on iPhones and iPads, which can go a long way to managing your child's screen time.
GoHenry also has parental control features that allow you to set limits on purchases, so you can be sure they're not overspending when using their devices online. You can also set spending limits so you can relax knowing they're not exceeding their budget.