How much time is appropriate?

As parents, we often want simple answers to how we should raise our children and set limits as they encounter the vast opportunities of the media and the potential challenges that come with them. Unfortunately, children are born without user manuals, and, for the most part, you have to pave the road as you go along.

Each child is different

Each child has a unique personality, and children have different interests – also when it comes to the media. Some children prefer television, while others like video games better. Some enjoy watching cartoons, while others prefer taking care of a virtual pet. Both activities are OK, as long as the content and the limits on use are sensible. Find out what your child is interested in and what they are good at, and facilitate a stimulating, engaging and enjoyable media experience.

Rather than being concerned with how much time your child should spend in front of each screen, it’s a more appropriate approach to consider the child’s media use as a whole.

Quantity or quality

Media is like food: A healthy diet is all about how much you take in and the nutrient content of the diet. Too much is rarely a good thing. Excessive media consumption in children can cause adverse effects on the child’s development later in life, in terms of health, lifestyle, social skills and academic achievements. In other words, good parenting involves providing both leeway and limits regarding media consumption.

A healthy media diet involves a balance between three factors:

  • What children are doing.
  • How much time they spend on it.
  • The content of the media: Which stories are told, which values are taught, what are the educational benefits?

Time spent by the youngest

As a rule, children younger than school age should be considerably more protected from the media than older children. Up to the age of two, children seem to have little benefit from watching TV. This does not mean that watching TV is harmful to the youngest, but there are many other forms of activities and social interactions that might be more stimulating and rewarding than sitting in front of a screen.

For children from three years and up to school age, one hour of media use per day may be a guideline, but no definitive answer.

Time spent by primary school children

When it comes to children between the ages of five and twelve, we, as parents, still have a lot of opportunities to influence the media use in our children’s everyday lives, in terms of type of media, time spent and content. Children need play and physical activity. These years are vital to children’s development and education. A useful rule of thumb is to focus on media that promotes development.

Media is a source of togetherness: By sharing media experiences with our children and talking about them afterwards, the child can develop a sense of belonging and a healthy curiosity. An hour shared in front of the screen is much more valuable than an hour spent alone in front of the screen.

The child’s everyday media life should not be run by the child alone. As parents, we can facilitate both playfulness and learning – by providing our children with simple yet clear limits to relate to. As an example, it’s a good idea to avoid spending time on media before bedtime, as this helps the child calm down before they go to sleep. If children watch high-energy cartoons until it’s time to brush their teeth and go to bed, all the impressions can make it hard to fall asleep.

Time spent by teenagers

When our children become teenagers, it’s natural that they to an increasing degree get to make their own choices, and that we give them both trust and responsibility.

Large media consumption does in no way mean that teenagers do poorer in school or are living an unhealthy life. In other words, there is no reason to be concerned if young people spend a lot of time using different media. Instead, focus on maintaining a healthy balance between school, social life online and offline, physical activities and spare time hobbies.

Media consumption is a natural and healthy part of teenage life; still, it shouldn’t be the only part of it.