Committee for Children Blog

Screen Time: Setting Limits That Work

screen time limitsOne of the biggest challenges for parents these days is managing their children’s screen time. Screens are the source of many power struggles for modern families. As a parent or caregiver, it’s your responsibility to set limits. Every family’s values and schedules are different, so screen-time limits look different from one family to another.

Children, like adults, aren’t mind readers, and like most of us, they do better knowing up front what’s expected of them. So get your family started on the right foot by having conversations with your children about what screen-time limits look like in your home. Parents will be more successful setting these limits if they have these conversations long before screens are turned on. Being clear about the limits and actually following through are the keys to avoiding power struggles when it comes time to turn off the devices. If you bend and change rules on a regular basis, you’re encouraging your children to test the limits.

Getting clear on the expectations ahead of time means establishing WHEN children may use screens and the LENGTH OF TIME for which they may use them. You might consider limiting the number of days screens are available, as well. WHERE kids can interact with screens is just as important. Are they allowed to do this in their rooms, or must they stay in the home’s common area? Being clear about WHAT they can play or watch is critical for keeping kids safe. There are rating systems for video games, just like there are for movies. Be specific about the types of games they can play and the programming they can watch. Many televisions have options for restricting content, as do computers.

Another factor to take into consideration is the age and maturity level of your child. The American Pediatric Association (APA) recommends that children under two not be exposed to screens at all (phones, TV, iPad, etc.). With children older than two, we really need to take into consideration their level of maturity and responsibility. The APA recommends no more than two hours of screen time a day. If you have a child who does homework, completes chores, and is doing well in school, you can be a bit more lenient, but make sure you’re consistent. Establishing clear limits and sticking to them are your greatest tools.

Why Limit Screen/Video Game Time?

There are pros and cons to every activity. The biggest con to screen time? When kids spend their limited time at home on the computer or playing games, it takes away from your ability to connect with them and limits other forms of activity. What they’re doing isn’t the real drawback; it’s what they’re not doing. Research has found that play is actually the most cognitively simulating activity a child can do. We don’t want to sacrifice actual play for playing a video game. Even games such as Red Light/Green Light and Simon Says require a lot of high-level cognitive functions that build self-control, memory, focus, and attention.

What Can Parents and Caregivers Do?

To avoid the negative effects of too much screen time, get involved! Sit down with your children while they use screens or play video games. Ask questions. Use this time as an opportunity to connect with your children and learn about their interests and what they think. Let them explain to you what they’re watching or playing. We can learn a lot about our kids through their interests, so if your children are drawn to a certain game or video, be sure to really understand what fuels their interest. Let them teach you a thing or two!

It’s also important to model the behavior you expect of your children. If you expect them to limit the amount of time they spend in front of screens, you need to model self-restraint. Getting clear on the limits you wish to impose on yourself can be very helpful. This might be putting your phone away for a set period of time during the day or designating a window of time at night when there is no computer or TV use. No matter what your limits are, the key again is consistency. We can’t expect our children to be successful at something we ourselves can’t do. Remember, the kids are watching—so be on your best behavior!