Many children enjoy playing video or computer games, messaging friends, or watching their favorite films or TV programs. With households in the US averaging more than nine connected devices — including a TV, smartphone, tablet, and video games console — many kids have quick and easy access to an electronic device. Screen time has become a staple part of many young people's daily routines. But with so many digital distractions now, it can be hard to get kids to unplug and spend more time away from their screens.
We’ve put together a guide to help parents and their children manage screen time to make the most out of time on and offline.
How can I control my child's screen time?
Limiting screen time isn't about spoiling kids' fun. That's why it's always a good idea to have open and honest conversations with your children about why you want to reduce their screen time. Kids are more likely to resist if they don't understand the reasons behind the changes and may just see it as a punishment. If you aren't sure of the best way to manage your child's screen time or how to limit screen time for kids and lessen how long they spend on their electronic devices, we've put together some tips to help you manage or reduce screen time for your kids:
Be present during screen time
Younger children typically benefit more from watching educational programs when adults watch with them and talk about what's going on. For older children and teenagers, TV programs, films, and video games can spark meaningful conversations about current news events or family values, or even create the chance for family bonding. Being present during screen time also helps to keep children safe as you can quickly intervene if you spot anything that might not be age-appropriate.
Explain why you're limiting screen time
When children understand why you want to limit screen time and the downside of having too much, they're more likely to cooperate with the new rules. But, if they just think you're being unreasonable, they're less likely to do as you ask. Talk to them about your concerns and ask them what they think about the time they spend on their devices. Chat to them about what other fun things they could do instead — they may actually start to look forward to unplugging.
Make screen time a privilege
Some parents choose to make screen time a privilege that can be earned rather than an automatic right. It's entirely down to what works for each family. You might find screen time works well as a treat or reward for completed chores.
Plan screen-free times
Get the family together and agree on times when screens aren't permitted. This might be after school, at mealtimes, or at certain times during the weekend. You may even decide to use screen-free time as an opportunity for the family to get together and spend quality time doing an activity with all screens - including those belonging to parents - put away. There's no right or wrong way to schedule screen-free time. It's about what works best for your family.
Use parental controls
There are tools available on most TVs, web browsers, and routers that enable you to prevent your children from accessing mature content on the TV or internet; parental controls can also be set up on Apple devices as well as on Android ones. You might also be able to set time limits so your children can only access their devices for a designated period.
Encourage other (non-screen) activities
Encourage your kids to find other activities that don't require a screen. A few simple ideas include reading a book, doing a jigsaw puzzle, building something out of Lego, playing in the garden, or getting out an old board game. This can also help your family establish a schedule that everyone can follow for non-screen time.
Set a good example
Children tend to model their behavior on their parents. Therefore, be mindful of how much time you spend on screens and devices in your children's company. If they see you constantly scrolling through your phone, they may think it's perfectly acceptable to be on their device constantly. But, if they see you doing other things such as reading a book, they may very well decide to follow your lead.
Keep your kids' bedrooms screen-free
You can't monitor your children's screen use if they use it in another room. Have all devices, including TVs, computers, video game consoles, and any handheld devices, in the main living area where you can keep an eye on them.
Use shared spaces of your home for screen time
Only allowing screen time in shared spaces means that you can keep an eye on what your children are doing with their screen time, making sure that they are not looking at inappropriate content. This can also make screen time more fun and special, as they will get to watch films or play games with you. Plus, you can help explain anything complex on educational shows that they're watching.
Electronic devices are a huge part of life now. It's not realistic to insist that your kid has no screen time, and as they get older they'll probably want more screen time. It's easier to get your kids to follow rules about screen time if you meet them halfway. Trying to stop them from watching TV or playing games completely will likely make them try to use devices in secret, so be realistic about their screen time limits.
Give your kids some control
Like with realistic limits, it's easier to get your kids to go along with the rules if they get some control over what they do. This doesn't mean you have to let them watch inappropriate content, but you could give them an option of what suitable shows they want to watch. You could also ask them when they'd like to have their screen time — before school, after school, or a mix. Giving your kids choice not only lets them learn about decision-making, but it makes it easier to get them to stick to the rules.
Use age-appropriate strategies
As kids grow up, you'll need to explain things to them in more depth, and you'll need to give them more freedom. Make sure you're explaining screen time limits in age-appropriate terms, and be sure to give them more freedom to choose films or games as they get older. Plus, for older kids, you could give them a chance to earn more screen time if they do their homework well, pass tests, or do additional chores. This is a great way to teach kids that hard work pays off.
Can I control my child's screen time from my phone?
Screen-time tracking or parental control apps can help you monitor your child's screen time from your phone. Use these apps as a way of gathering information to determine whether you're happy with the amount of screen time your child has. You can then decide whether you want to set limits on what family members can access and for how long. This can be particularly useful if you have older children and teenagers who have their own devices. Use the apps as a way to start conversations with your kids about screen use and get them involved in deciding what is reasonable and which apps are appropriate for them. Three examples of screen time monitoring apps are:
- Norton Family Parental Control (for iPad, iPhone and Android)
- ESET Parental Control (for Android)
- FamiSafe – Parental Control (for iPad, iPhone and Android)
There are also other ways to keep your child safe on their phone including education and using security software.
How much screen time should kids have?
A clear sign that your kids might be having too much screen time is if it interferes with their other activities like family time, homework and sleep. However, the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry recommendations for daily screen time for children aged under 6 are:
- Under 18 months: No screen time other than video calls alongside an adult
- 18 to 24 months old: No additional screentime besides watching educational programs with a carer
- 2 to 5 years old: maximum of one hour of screen time per weekday and 3 hours on weekend days
For children aged 5 to 17, researchers suggest encouraging healthy habits that limit screen time, as well as turning off screens 30-60 minutes before bedtime. Ultimately, the amount of screen time that's healthy for your children is up to you.
Learn more about parental control features with GoHenry
When you set up a GoHenry account, you have access to a great range of parental control features that will give you peace of mind and help you support your children's money management, which can go great alongside these methods for how to reduce screen time for kids, helping them learn about online safety and online money safety, and stopping them from overspending on online games. For instance, you can set a range of limits:
- ATM transaction limit
- How much can be spent in one transaction
- How much can be spent each week
- Where the GoHenry prepaid debit card can be used (online, in-store)
You'll also receive real-time notifications about your kids' spending, including what they've purchased and how much they've spent. If you have any concerns, you can immediately block and unblock their card from your parental account. Parents can easily change the limits on their child's account by logging in to their GoHenry parent account and going to the Rules page.