Too Much Screen time? Tips to Manage Screen Time for Kids

Screens have become a large part of our everyday life. Unfortunately, screens affect kids’ cognitive, social, and emotional development, as well as their physical and mental health. It affects sleep, memory and learning, mood, anxiety, and behaviour. It is important to learn how to manage screen time for kids effectively to mitigate these risks.

Most parents are concerned about how much time their kids are on screens (if you’re unsure, check out this SCREENER to see!) but are at a loss of how to change things. It is not easy, but it is essential to learn how to limit and manage screen time for kids effectively for their (and the family’s) overall well-being.

Limit Screen time

Create a Family Media plan

Be sure to individualize how much screen time everyone gets, as well as what content can be accessed. Choose times and content together and purposefully. Every family is different, so find the right balance that meets your needs.

Children under 2 should not have any access to any screen. There is no evidence to support introducing technology at an early age.

For children aged 2 to 5 years, the AAP recommends no more than one hour of screen time per day. Ensure that screen time is not a routine part of childcare.

Older children and teens should have consistent limits to ensure screen time doesn’t interfere with sleep, physical activity, and other essential behaviours.

As you make the plan, talk with your kids about what are acceptable and unacceptable online behaviours and expectations. Ask them for their ideas first – we don’t want to make this into a lecture. Be sure to review this plan regularly.

Establish screen-free times

Have screen-free times every day. Make firm expectations when screens are off-limits, such as during meals or any time with family or friends. You may even want to have screen-free days. Plan family activities to enjoy your time together.

No screens before bed

One of the most important ways to manage screen time for kids is to establish a ‘no screens’ rule at least an hour before bedtime to ensure better sleep quality for your children. If possible, extending this to two or even three hours can be even more beneficial. Here’s why:

Blue Light and Melatonin. Screens emit blue light, which can interfere with the production of melatonin, the hormone responsible for regulating sleep-wake cycles. When melatonin production is disrupted, it becomes harder for children to fall and stay asleep.

Overstimulation and Cortisol. The content on screens can be highly stimulating. Whether it’s an intense video game, an exciting movie, or engaging social media interactions, this stimulation can cause the release of cortisol, a stress hormone. Elevated cortisol levels can make it challenging for children to wind down and prepare for sleep.

Creating a Calming Routine. By setting a screen-free period before bed, you help create a calming bedtime routine that can significantly improve sleep quality. Encourage activities that promote relaxation, such as reading a book, listening to soothing music, or engaging in quiet play.

Implementing a screen-free time before bed supports better sleep and contributes to your child’s overall health and well-being. It might be a challenging change at first, but the benefits of improved sleep and reduced stress are well worth the effort.

Establish screen-free zones

Limit screens in certain places. In my house, we don’t let any technology go in any bedrooms. We have established places where screens can be used.

Encourage offline activities

When you take away screens, your kids may need help at first to figure out what they can do instead. Scheduling your day can be extremely helpful when your kids unplug.

A major problem with screens is that they steal away opportunities and experiences that are important for kids’ development. Prioritize activities and routines that are important for your family. Make sure they have time to interact face-to-face, exercise, get outside, pursue a hobby, learn, and play.

There are so many benefits to any other activity to manage screen time for kids.

Outdoor play boosts vitamin D levels, and enhances mood.

Physical activities help improve motor skills, boost physical health, and enhance mental well-being. Activities such as biking, playing sports, or simply running around in the park encourage the development of coordination, strength, and endurance. Additionally, physical activity is linked to improved mood and reduced anxiety, thanks to the release of endorphins.

Face-to-face interactions with peers and family members enhance social skills and emotional intelligence. Activities like playing board games, participating in group sports, or simply having conversations help children learn cooperation, negotiation, and empathy. Social interactions are crucial for developing a sense of belonging and improving self-esteem.

Reading books or engaging in storytelling stimulates cognitive development, enhances vocabulary, and improves language skills. It also fosters imagination and creativity. Regular reading habits can improve concentration and memory, and storytelling encourages children to express themselves more confidently and articulate their thoughts.

Art activities promote fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination. These activities also encourage creativity and problem-solving abilities. Art projects can be therapeutic and provide a way for children to express their emotions. Working on crafts can teach patience and persistence as children see their projects through to completion.

Games and puzzles that challenge the mind, such as chess, Sudoku, or educational board games, enhance cognitive abilities like critical thinking, logic, and spatial awareness. These activities also help develop problem-solving skills and can be a fun way to learn new concepts.

Kids must also learn how to manage boredom and fill their own time. Encourage your child to explore interests such as playing a musical instrument, gardening, joining a sports team, or participating in community service. These activities not only keep them engaged but also help develop new skills and build social

Here are 119 activities to help them get started!

Turn off background screens

Avoid background TV and turn off all screens (even phones and laptops) when they are not being used – helps limit the ‘quick checks’ we tend to make. If you do need to keep them on, turn off notifications.

Be a Role Model

Be sure to model your own screen habits and practice doing what you want them to do. Limit your own screen time. Plan to do other things like reading or fixing things around the house. Follow your own plans and rules.

Manage Screen time

When our kids do get screen time, ensure that this time is managed effectively.

Be Present

Always be nearby when kids are using screens – even your teens. When watching TV, watch with your kids and talk about what they are seeing. Play video games with them.

Being present with your kids helps you connect with them. And, talking about what you are watching/playing helps promote comprehension and language development, critical thinking, and cognitive abilities like attention and memory.

Make it Meaningful

Make sure your kids have a purpose when they use screens. They should know exactly what they need to turn the screen on for and where they are going. For example, don’t let them mindlessly roam through Netflix until they find something interesting.

Make sure whatever program they engage in is active, social, or promoting their learning. (Playing games with friends online doesn’t count.)

Use screens in creative ways

Teach your kids active ways to use technology and screens (vs. passively watching or playing). Use phones or iPads as cameras to take pictures or make their own movies. Go geocaching. Use screens to do yoga, learn new dance moves, or exercise. Face-time friends and family.

There are also additional considerations to think about when you decide to work on screen time in your family. While I am a pretty easygoing parent with no real rules in my house, I am 100% a stickler when it comes to screens. Not only does the research clearly show the detriment screens can have on kids, I have seen it first hand in my work with children, teens, and adults. And their families. While it might feel hard to tackle in the moment, it will be far easier today than it will be tomorrow.

Mental Health Considerations

Excessive screen time has been linked to increased rates of anxiety and depression in children. Encourage regular breaks, ensure balanced activities, and be attentive to signs of distress. Consider professional support if needed. Regular check-ins with your child about their feelings and experiences can also help you stay informed and provide the necessary support.

Managing screen time in today’s digital age is a challenging but essential task for promoting your child’s healthy development. By implementing a comprehensive family media plan, establishing screen-free times and zones, and engaging in meaningful screen activities, you can help your children develop balanced and healthy screen habits.

Remember, to manage screen time for kids effectively, it’s not about eliminating screen time entirely but finding a healthy balance that works for your family. Regularly reviewing and adjusting your approach, staying informed about the latest research, and seeking support can make this process more manageable. By being proactive and involved, you can ensure that screen time contributes positively to your child’s growth and well-being.

Want to read more?

Co-watching Tip sheet: chrome-extension://efaidnbmnnnibpcajpcglclefindmkaj/   

Canadian Pediatric Society:

Screen ratings:

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