How much screen time should our children have?
It’s a stressful time for us all and different people will have their own ways in coping with lockdown. As such, there’s no right answer when it comes to managing screen time during the coronavirus crisis. COVID-19 has meant we’re all spending more time at home, and remote teaching has become our children’s new way of learning. Families everywhere are adapting to our new setup; from helping to home school children, to adapting to work from home.
There are no ‘safe’ amounts of screen time, and the right amount of screen use will vary from family to family.
Here are four questions that The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health suggests asking yourself about your household screen use. Happy with the answers? You’re probably doing as well as you can with this tricky issue. If you’re not happy with the answers, think about what you might change.
1: Is screen time in your household controlled? This means that children don’t have free reign, and that adults use screens purposefully, rather than unconsciously and all the time.
- Does screen use interfere with what your family want to do?
- Does screen use interfere with sleep?
- Are you able to control snacking during screen time?
If screen time is impacting your time as a family, or you’ve noticed your child’s sleep or wellbeing is affected, it’s worth considering limiting your device time, to focus on driving positive changes – for example, better sleep or managing a better diet.
It’s important to find a balance of how much screen time we’re using – even during these stressful times – and make sure your health always comes first.
What are the effects of too much screen time?
It’s important to remember that, by and large, technology is a good thing. It offers children opportunities to learn and develop new skills at a touch of a button. Like anything though, too much of it can have a negative effect on their wellbeing.
Too much screen time can impact our sleep as the blue light from laptops and mobile phones is similar to that found in sunlight, meaning it can trick your body clock into thinking its daytime.
Constant use of a device can be habit-forming and may encourage children to spend longer on screens. It’s important for both yourself and your children to take regular breaks away from your digital devices. Ideally have an hour before bed of screen-free time and instead use this time to wind down – taking a bath and reading bedtime stories can help to promote sleep and establish an element of your routine that’s screen-free.
How can we limit our child’s screen time?
Set clear boundaries
Make sure your child knows when they can and can’t play on their digital devices or watch TV. Everyone’s rules will be different, but you could consider a no games before homework or dinner policy. If they spend a lot of time playing on video games, another idea is to restrict how much time they spend gaming by giving them a ‘gaming allowance’. This is a set amount of time per day or week that they can play for.
Take your child’s lead
It can be difficult to get kids up and about at the best of times, and especially if you are all stuck at home! It’s important to take a break from your digital devices and see what your child enjoys and do it together. That could mean anything from walking the dog or playing with a ball in the park. Just like you, your children are more likely to want to keep up forms of activity that make them feel excited.
Manage parental controls on your child’s devices
It’s not just the act of using screens, but what you’re accessing through them that could be a concern. Parental controls are a built-in function to all modern digital devices. They can help you to manage what content your child can access, and you can even enforce time limits. Spend some time researching your child’s console or devices and set up appropriate parental controls. This article on online safety for children is useful.
Manage your own screen time
Set a good example for your children with your digital habits. As well as limiting your own screen time, why not create a ‘screen-free’ zone at home? If you’re doing something as a family, consider putting phones or devices to one side, so that people aren’t distracted by them. Read this article on 10 reasons why a digital curfew will improve your life.
Keep it open
If you can, try to get involved with your child when they play. Encourage them not to play on their devices alone in their room, and if possible, move games consoles downstairs into communal living spaces. This will allow you to monitor their behaviour and interactions with their digital devices.
Article written by Dr Rebecca Rohrer, Clinical Fellow at Bupa UK