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Managing Screen Time: A Parent's Guide to Setting Healthy Limits for Children



Screen time is a topic that families I work with often bring up and with good reason!

In today's digital age, screens are everywhere and easily accessible – phones, tablets, computers, TVs. While they offer endless opportunities for learning and entertainment, too much screen time can have negative effects on our health and well-being.


So, how do we know when it's too much, and how can we set limits?


Understanding Screen Time

Screen time refers to the amount of time spent using electronic devices with screens. It includes activities like watching TV, playing video games, browsing the internet, and using social media.


Understanding The Context

Context matters when it comes to screen time. Scrolling endlessly on TikTok alone in the bedroom is not the same as playing video games with friends or going to the movie theater with the family. Similarly, watching a documentary is not the same as watching reality TV. Hence, below we will give specific recommendations for time. However, it's important to understand that not every minute is equal in terms of social or educational richness. Keep this in mind when setting reasonable limits for your child.


The Risks of Excessive Screen Time

  • Mental Health Concerns: Excessive screen time has been linked to issues such as poor sleep quality, dependence on screens, anxiety, depression, and decreased social interaction.

  • Developmental Issues: While screens can have educational potential, excessive screen time can affect executive functioning, language development, sensorimotor development, social-emotional development, and academic outcomes.

  • Physical Health Issues: Spending too much time in front of screens can lead to problems like eye strain, headaches, and neck and back pain.

  • Decreased Physical Activity: When we're glued to screens, we're less likely to be physically active, which can contribute to obesity and other health problems.


How Much Screen Time for Children is Too Much?

  • For children under 2 years old: Screen time is not recommended, except for video chatting with family and friends.

  • For children aged 3 to 7 years old: Limit screen time to 30 minutes to 1 hour per day or less.

  • For children aged 7 to 12 years old: Limit screen time to about 1 hour per day.

  • For children 12 and above: Keep screen time under 2 hours a day.


*Remember that these times are general guidelines. You may want to adapt the time when technology is used for social-emotional (e.g. therapy, zoom with family, games with friends..) or learning purposes (e.g. homework, educational apps, learning something new, documentaries…), or during weekdays versus weekends. The goal is to ensure that screen time doesn’t interfere with sleep, physical/social activity, and other healthy behaviors.


Setting Limits

  • Lead by Example: Children of parents that use screens excessively have an increased likelihood of doing the same. Limit your own screen time and show your children that there are other activities to enjoy such as shared reading, outdoor play, easy board games, and crafts.

  • Establish Screen-Free Zones: Designate certain areas of the house, like the dinner table or bedrooms, as screen-free zones.

  • Create a Schedule: Set specific times for screen time, such as after homework or on weekends, and stick to them.

  • Encourage Alternative Activities: Encourage your children to engage in activities like reading, playing outside, or doing crafts instead of always turning to screens for entertainment.

  • Use Parental Controls: Many devices and apps have built-in parental controls that allow you to set time limits and restrict certain content.


Monitor and Adjust

Regularly monitor your child's screen time and its effects on their behavior, mood, and health. Be prepared to adjust the limits if necessary. Remember, the goal is not to completely eliminate screen time but to find a healthy balance that allows for other important activities and interactions. By setting limits and encouraging alternative activities, you can help your family enjoy the benefits of technology without the negative consequences of excessive screen time.


If you're worried about managing your child's screen time usage, don't hesitate to contact us for extra support.




References:

Muppalla SK, Vuppalapati S, Reddy Pulliahgaru A, Sreenivasulu H. Effects of Excessive Screen Time on Child Development: An Updated Review and Strategies for Management. Cureus. 2023 Jun 18;15(6):e40608. doi: 10.7759/cureus.40608. PMID: 37476119; PMCID: PMC10353947.

Pause ton ecran, Les mefaits des ecrans, 12 juillet 2021. https://pausetonecran.com/les-mefaits-des-ecrans/ 

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