In a recent study, we found that out of nearly 700 parents questioned, more than half of the respondents felt guilty about how much screen time their children were getting. Whether they're soaking in too many TV shows, playing hours of games, or constantly scrolling through their phones, kids of all ages seem to be spending more and more time on the internet and in front of their screens. However, there are ways to encourage them to make more productive use of their time by learning how to limit screen time.
The effects of too much screen time on children
In general, too much screen time for kids can have negative effects, such as trouble sleeping, mood problems, self-esteem issues, and weight problems.
For one, using your mobile phone right before bedtime can hinder sleep. Plus, kids who spend an excessive amount of time on their phones are less likely to be active and productive because their time is all spent in the "phone zone." Kids can also find themselves in trouble on the internet if they're not careful. It's easy to be preyed upon by internet predators or even fall into gambling traps if a child isn't careful and if parents aren't fully aware of what's happening.
But it's a bit tricky to analyze how much time in front of a screen is acceptable because children can really learn from educational programs on their devices. Though the research on kids' screen time is still a bit limited, the general rule of thumb is that children under 18 months shouldn't have any screen time beyond video chatting with family.
However, kids ages 18 months to 5 years old should have less than one hour of screen time a day, and it should be limited to something educational. The American Psychological Association notes that young children don't learn much from screens because they're not developed enough to understand what's happening, unlike older children. After age 5, it's really up to parents to decide an appropriate amount of screen time, which means considering what part of that screen time is educational. There's no right or wrong answer here, and the plan will be unique to each family.
How to reduce your kids' screen time
Ultimately, it's up to parents to create a regimen for when kids can use their devices (outside of educational purposes). Here are some tips for what you can do for structure.
Turn Wi-Fi off at certain hours
One of the most straightforward ways to regulate internet use at home is simply turning off the Wi-Fi.
Consider doing this during the night and whenever else you need your child to be engaged in something else (perhaps homework or family mealtime). One thing to keep in mind here is making sure your child doesn't have the ability to turn the Wi-Fi back on. If possible, keep your modem or router in a place only you can access so only you have the power to turn it on and off. Or maybe you simply unplug it from the wall and hide the cord.
Remember, though, that many devices operate with data as well, which is another thing to keep in mind as well. Turning off the Wi-Fi may not knock out their cell phones that connect to the internet with data.
Take their phones away at certain hours
Just like many kids have to turn their cell phones in during school hours, maybe you have them do the same thing at home during certain hours. Let the child have their devices for periods of time but consider having them hand them over at mealtimes, bedtime, and any other time determined to be device-free.
Of course, you don't want to take their phones away when they're out -- especially without you -- but devices aren't always quite as necessary at home. Plus, if you've taken their phones away in the evenings at home, they'll (maybe) spend more time with you, which is something many parents may value.
Use parental controls
Many devices and some apps have parental controls available to limit use. For instance, on streaming services, parents can set up a limit of what kids can watch on their accounts, which means you can limit what they have access to.
If your child has Android devices, Google has a helpful how-to guide to set up parental controls on the devices through Google Play, and this will limit all aspects of what the device can be used for.
Similarly, Apple has a parental control guide for iPads, iPod Touch, and iPhones to set limitations on what your kid can do on their devices. Again, this will limit all aspects of the device, including web searches, Siri functionality, and app downloading.
Use time-limiting apps
There are a few ways you can glean more info about how much screen time your child is actually using, as well as try to limit it with apps.
If you're using an Apple device, you can monitor the screen time by going to the Settings app, then Screen Time. From here, users can set timers on certain apps, block content, and schedule downtime.
If your child has an Android device, you can similarly monitor the screen time by going to the Settings app and then select Digital Wellbeing. Just like with Apple, you can set timers on apps, limit the content, and customize what apps can be used when. Beyond these built-in functions, there are other apps that will expand on this functionality and give you even more influence over what can be used and when.
Encourage other activities
It's easy for us to tell you to ask your child to get off their phones and do something else, but it may not be that easy to get them to listen. Instead of just telling them to put their phones down, try encouraging other activities. And beyond just encouraging them, join them in those activities. Spend time with your child playing outside, going on adventures, exercising, crafting, or anything else you can come up with that doesn't require staring at a screen. Not only are you encouraging them to put their phones down, but you're doing the same. You're leading by example and spending quality time with your kids, which is something that most likely both of you will be grateful for years down the line.