Knowing how to manage kids’ screen time is a subject that worries many parents. In fact, according to a Pew Research Center survey, more than 70% of parents are at least somewhat concerned their young children spend too much time looking at screens.
So how much is too much? What are the risks? And how can you manage your kids’ screen time?
What is classed as screen time?
Screen time is the amount of time spent on a phone, tablet, device, computer, television, or game console. According to the latest Screen Time study in 2023, Americans spend seven hours and four minutes looking at screens each day. That’s 7 minutes more than the global average. And when calculated over a year, it means each person spends 106 days per year with their eyes locked on a screen.
As for kids, CDC data reveals that on average, children between 0-8 have 2.5 hours of screen time per day, 8-10 year-olds 6 hours, 11-14 year-olds 9 hours, and 15-18 year-olds 7.5 hours.
Guidelines for screen time for kids (by age)
It’s difficult to assess how much screen time is appropriate for kids. There is not enough evidence to create a reliable guide.
The American Academy of Pedriatrics (AAP) gives guidelines up to the age of eight, discouraging screen use at all below the age of two and no more than one to two hours per day between two and eight years old. Beyond that, the AAP recommends setting limits based on whether screen use interferes with other activities in your child’s life (see below).
0-2 years olds
Research published in 2023, reveals that toddlers under two spent an average of one hour and 50 minutes per day using media. Most of this time is spent watching television/videos (45 minutes), listening to audio (35 minutes) and reading (28 minutes).
For children under two, the AAP recommends very limited screen time. The only exception is video calling. Although research by ScienceDirect shows that children find it hard to understand what they’re seeing and hearing without an adult on hand to explain.
From 18-24 months, it’s advised that children should only watch high-quality media when an adult is with them. Never alone.
The World Health Organisation says kids in this age range should have an hour of screen time daily at most.
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 the JAMA Paediatrics Journal, the age group logged 2.5 hours daily in front of a screen (including TV).
5-7 years old
For this age group, the AAP recommends monitoring your child’s screen use to make sure it doesn’t impact other vital activities like sleep and exercise. They should also check what their children are viewing to make sure it’s suitable.
8 - 12 years old
In this age range, kids typically become engaged in gaming which increases their screen time. The American Academy of Child Psychiatry (AACP) says that on average, children ages 8-12 spend 4-6 hours each day watching or using screens.
But rather than take a one-size fits all approach, the AACP and AAP recommend you talk to your kids about how much they use or watch screens. You should also ask what they’re viewing and find out what they're learning too.
The AACP says teens spend up to 9 hours per day watching or using screens. Comparitech data suggests three out of those nine hours are spent watching TV or video while nearly two hours are spent gaming. Another hour and 27 minutes is spent on social media, according to a report on 8-18-year-olds.
A new study by Trinity College Dublin claims 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.
Risks of too much screen time
Disrupted sleep patterns
Getting angry when asked to turn devices off
Unable to wind down after gaming
Falling behind on homework
Becoming too sedentary
Feeling panicked when their device is taken away
Problems with concentration
A lack of offline experiences
Communicating less with family.
How to manage your child's screen time
As the AACP says, managing your child's screen time can be challenging. But “positive and healthy screen use is possible with proper guidance and consistency”. Once you can see how screen time affects them, you can start making changes and talking to your child about how and why it needs to be managed. For more tips on how to do this, see 12 tips 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
Suggest ideas to them. Don't be afraid to suggest ideas for good games to play, streaming services to watch, and apps to try. If you can link these to their school curriculum, even better.
Play their games with them. Part of the concern over 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’re playing online.
Ask what they do online. It's easy to assume your kids are looking at nonsense, but younger kids tend to watch and learn from the programs 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, during mealtime, for example. Also, set daily screen time limits and curfews, such as no exposure to devices one hour before bedtime and no phones during the 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.
Develops problem-solving skills. Research has also shown screen time spent playing video games can help children develop problem-solving skills, spark their creativity, and help them become more persistent.
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, especially when you’re not 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.