A Parent’s Guide to Screen Time

Msc (psychology), NLP
@Islaah Center for Psychological Wellness

Screen time is the amount of time spent using a device with a screen such as a smartphone, computer, television, or video game console.

The World Health Organization’s guidelines recommend on the subject of screen time, that those aged 0-1 years old should have no screen time at all, while those 2-4 years of age should have no more than one hour of screen time, which will exclude video call with distant family members. World Health Organization suggests that parents replace screen time with more enriching activities.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), “Studies have shown that excessive media use can lead to attention problems, difficulties in studies, sleep and eating disorders, and obesity. In addition, the Internet and cell phones can provide platforms for illicit and risky behaviors.”

Tips to set screen time limits

  1. Set a good example: Be mindful of your own use of electronics, particularly when you are with your children. Adults don’t have to be held to the exact same rules as children but follow the spirit of your screen time rules. Be especially careful of multitasking with a screen while you are with your children.
  2. Have specific times when screens are off-limits: Maybe this would be until homework is done or until after dinner or when they have friends visiting. This helps kids understand that electronics are just not appropriate at times.
  3. Specify areas where screens aren’t welcome: Perhaps you would have a rule about the dinner table or maybe you don’t want them using them in their rooms unattended. Again this sends the signal that screens aren’t to be a ubiquitous presence in their lives.
  4. Boundaries really do work if you stick to them: The important thing is to get your child involved in the process so that they understand why you’re setting limits. Be very clear about your reasons and ask them what they think – getting buy-in at this stage will really help to avoid arguments later on.
  5. Be vigilant: whatever rules or guidelines you set, stick to it. It’s hard as a parent to always be the enforcer, but that is our job. And if you are consistent, it gets easier.
  6. Be flexible: As kids grow, they change and so does the technology. Parents have to be ready to make new rules or modify old ones when change happens, but keep that guiding principle of balance in mind as you readjust your family’s rules.
  7. Have quality family screen time together: Although it is good to set aside time when the family is not using screens – outdoor activities, chats at meal times, day trips at the weekend – this doesn’t mean that you can’t also get involved in using screens together. If you know that your child enjoys playing games online, organize a family gaming night or let them plan something for the whole family to get stuck into. If you take a real interest in what they like to do online, they’re more likely to come to you if something goes wrong, or they make a mistake along the way.

Managing your child’s use of screens and media will be an ongoing challenge. But by developing household rules and revisiting them as your child grows you can help ensure a safe experience.