We are living in a digital age where technology has become an integral part of our daily lives. From smartphones and tablets to laptops and gaming consoles, screens are everywhere, and they are changing the way we interact with the world.
I’ve been involved in technology from a very young age and enjoyed dabbling in coding and playing games online since the early 90’s, however as parents, it can be challenging to navigate this new digital landscape and decide how much screen time is appropriate for our children.
I’m sure at some point you have asked yourself – how much screen time is too much for my kids?
Each family is different and what works for mine might not work for yours, but in this article, we’ll explore the pros and cons of screen time for kids and provide practical tips for limiting screen time.
The Pros of Screen Time
There are some advantages to allowing your children to have screen time. Here are a few of the positive effects that screens can have on your child’s development:
- Educational opportunities – Screens can provide children with access to a wealth of educational resources, such as online tutorials, interactive games, and digital textbooks. These resources can help children to learn new skills, explore new subjects, and engage with complex ideas in an interactive way.
We actively encourage our children to use Purple Mash, Reading Eggs and iXL (KS1 to KS2) – these helped with our kids going through SATS and the 11+.
- Creative expression – Screens can be a powerful tool for creative expression, allowing children to explore their artistic and musical interests, experiment with new media, and share their creations with others online.
Procreate and Minecraft are two of the firm favourites in this household and while one might not consider Minecraft as a creative expression in the traditional sense, it is helping one of my kids who isn’t artistically inclined, to express himself in a way he feels comfortable.
- Social connection – Screens can help children stay connected with friends and family members who live far away, and can also provide opportunities for children to connect with others who share their interests and hobbies.
- Exposure to different cultures – Screens can expose children to a wide range of cultures and perspectives, allowing them to learn about different ways of life, languages, and customs from around the world.
- Developing digital literacy – Screens are an integral part of our digital age, and by using them responsibly, children can develop important digital literacy skills that will be essential in the workplace and in everyday life.
- Entertainment – From games to watching videos, we all enjoy a bit of downtime and letting the children watch on Disney+ or Netflix from time to time won’t hurt them. Just make sure you’ve set the correct age limit for your child and discuss what it is they’re watching with them.
If they have seen something inappropriate it’s crucial that you engage in an open dialogue with them to let them air any concerns they may have regarding what it is they’ve seen.
As an example, my 2nd eldest daughter was recently permitted to watch SniperWolf reaction videos on YT Kids, I don’t mind them watching mindless entertainment on occasion but I was concerned that the content was inappropriate for her age.
It turns out she had taken it upon herself to watching them on Safari with no age-restriction and the rabbit-hole that is the YT algorithm had taken her down to a rather unsafe space.
She admitted that she had seen some things that weren’t appropriate for her age and we decided that an appropriate repercussion was to remove access to Safari until she feels that she can trust herself to not explore videos that aren’t suitable for her.
The Cons of Screen Time
While screens can have some benefits, there are also several drawbacks to consider:
- Physical health issues – Spending too much time in front of screens can lead to physical health issues, such as obesity, poor posture, and eye strain. Children who spend a lot of time sitting and staring at screens may also have reduced muscle development and weaker bones.
- Mental health issues – Excessive screen time has been linked to a range of mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, and sleep disorders. This is because screens can disrupt natural sleep patterns and make it difficult for children to wind down and get a good night’s sleep.
- Social skills – Children who spend too much time on screens may struggle to develop social skills and make friends. This is because they may spend less time interacting with other children and more time on their devices.
- Cognitive development – Studies have shown that excessive screen time can have a negative impact on cognitive development, including language skills and attention span. This is because screens can overstimulate the brain and make it difficult for children to concentrate on other activities.
- Behavioural issues – Children who spend a lot of time on screens may be more likely to develop behavioural issues, such as aggression and impulsivity. This is because screens can desensitise children to violence and aggression and make it difficult for them to regulate their emotions.
Limiting Screen Time
So, how can parents limit their children’s screen time? Here are some practical tips:
- Create a schedule – Establishing a schedule for screen time can help children understand that screens are not a free-for-all activity. It’s essential to be consistent with the schedule, so your child knows what to expect.
For example, you may decide to allow your child to have 30 minutes of screen time after they have completed their homework or chores. Once the time is up, they must turn off their devices and engage in other activities.
By setting a specific time limit, children will learn to manage their screen time and be more aware of how much time they are spending on screens.
I allow my kids up to an hour on their screens during a weekday and “unlimited” access on weekends as long as all their homework, chores and self-care is done. However if I find someone has plonked themselves on the sofa and hasn’t moved for anything bar mealtime then their tech miraculously loses connection to the Wi-Fi.
- Set boundaries – It’s important to set boundaries around screen time to ensure that your child is not exposed to inappropriate content or spending too much time on screens.
For example, you may choose to ban screens during meal times or before bedtime to help your child wind down and get a good night’s sleep. It’s also important to set limits around the types of content that are allowed on screens. For example, you may choose to only allow educational content or age-appropriate games.
There are a few games that I refuse to allow the kids to play, namely Roblox or any freemium type game that rewards children for watching adverts. This has caused issues as most of their peers will play Roblox but the sheer amount of scary, inappropriate and “made-for scaring children” content that is freely available on that platform makes it an absolute no-go for me. I’ve set an unrealistic boundary for one of my youngest that had an interesting side-effect – to allow access to Roblox he must earn £1mil from his own apps – this has started his journey to coding in Python and we spend a fair amount of time bonding over creating this little app.
- Use parental controls – Most devices come with parental controls that allow you to set time limits and block inappropriate content. Make use of these tools to help you monitor your child’s screen time. For example, you can use the parental controls to set a time limit for screen time or block certain websites or apps that you don’t want your child to access. By using these controls, you can give yourself peace of mind and ensure that your child is safe online.
- Find alternatives – Encourage your child to engage in other activities that don’t involve screens. This can include reading books, playing outside, doing arts and crafts, or playing board games. By finding alternative activities, you can help your child develop a range of skills and interests beyond screens. It’s also important to remember that children learn by example. So, if you’re always on your phone or watching TV, your child is more likely to do the same. By finding alternative activities that you can enjoy together, you can set a good example for your child and help them develop healthy habits.
- Lead by example – Finally, it’s important to lead by example. If you want your child to limit their screen time, then you need to do the same. Try to reduce your own screen time and engage in other activities with your child. By setting a good example, you can show your child that there is life beyond screens and encourage them to develop other interests and hobbies. It’s also important to remember that every family is different, and what works for one family may not work for another. By being flexible and adaptable, you can find the right balance for your family and help your child thrive in a digital age.
In summary, while screens can have some benefits for children, it’s important to limit screen time and ensure that your child is engaging in a range of activities.
By creating a schedule, setting boundaries, using parental controls, finding alternatives, and leading by example, you can help your child develop healthy habits and thrive in a digital age. Remember that every child is different, so it’s important to be flexible and find the right balance that works for your family.
I’ve been guilty of letting the kids have true unlimited access to their tech when I’m just too tired or the 2 hours of broken sleep has left me in a crumpled mess on the floor, but the kids are fairly understanding that days like that are few and far inbetween now that the routine and rules are in place.
How has tech affected your family life, I’d love to hear from you below. What tips and tricks can you share with your fellow parents?