How can I help my child best manage their screen time?

Tech and devices are becoming a larger part of families lives and there is no sign that this is going to change. So, learning how to make the best of screen time is key. Get advice from our expert panellists to recognise when screen time may be affecting their wellbeing and how to help them develop good digital habits.

As devices are becoming a larger part of families lives and there is no sign that this is going to change. So, learning how to make the best of screen time is key. Get advice from our expert panellists to recognise when screen time may be affecting their wellbeing and how to help them develop good digital habits.

Dr Elizabeth Milovidov, JD

Law Professor and Digital Parenting Expert
Expert Website

How can I spot when my child has had ‘too much screen time’?

On February 7, 2019 the UK CMO released a commentary on ‘Screen-based activities and children and young people’s mental health and psychosocial wellbeing: a systematic map of reviews’.  The commentary comes at a time when parents and carers may be feeling overwhelmed by the media reports, perspectives and guidelines on screen time, screen use, and screen limits.

From the American Academy of Pediatrics original stance (1999) stating no screen time for children under two, later updated to a more nuanced approach (2016) in allowing limited high-quality content for children, we now know that all screen time is not equal.

The Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health guidelines published in January 2019, added to the screen time issue by suggesting that parents approach screen time “based on the child’s developmental age, the individual need and value the family place on positive activities such as socialising, exercise and sleep.”

This well-meaning advice for families alleviates concerns (and guilt) regarding screen-based activities, demonstrates the positive impact of technology and allows parents to focus on context and content of screen time rather than just time limits.

But some parents and carers may still want to know: “when has my child had “too much screen time?”  As families and children differ, so does the effects of screen time, however, all parents can use these tips as a guideline.

Watch how your child interacts with their device

  • Does my child have a tantrum when the device is removed or screen turned off?
  • Does my child complain of neck pain or back pain?
  • Does my child complain of headaches or eye strain?
  • Does my child become aggressive or angry when playing or watching online?
  • Does my child often seem over-excited?
  • Has my child become disorganized, disobedient, or oppositional?

If the answer to the majority of these questions is ‘Yes,’ then parents should consider supplementing screen time activities with something else.

How to recognize when screen-time is negatively impacting my child’s development

  • Is my child connecting socially with family and friends?
  • Is my child physically healthy and sleeping enough?
  • Is my child engaged with and achieving in school?
  • Is my child pursuing interests and hobbies (in any form)?
  • Is my child having fun and learning in their use of digital media?

If the answer to the majority of these questions is ‘No’, then parents may need to place limits on screen-based activities.  (For more parental tips, see page 30 of Families and Screen time from Sonia Livingstone and Alicia Blum-Ross.)

Dr. Linda Papadopoulos

Psychologist, Author, Broadcaster and Internet Matters Ambassador
Expert Website

Again, this is a big discussion at the moment – how much screen time is too much screen time?

The best way to look at is – is it getting in the way of day to day activities? If your child’s screen time is to the detriment of them seeing friends, doing their homework or having an interrupted family meal – it’s too much screen time.

As a family, you may have rules but it’s a great idea to discuss with your child their thoughts on what screen time is appropriate –  when and where.

If it’s appropriate to have them for an hour in the evening – encourage to the use the monitoring tools to look at their own screen time and help them interrupt themselves. Look at having the wellbeing discussion and also look at a practical discussion around the amount of time they should be spending on devices that encourages a varied diet of family time, exercise, socialising and school work.

Rebecca Avery

Education Safeguarding Adviser, Kent County Council
Expert Website

What is the best way to encourage children to use apps, website, and tools that will help them get the best out of their screen time?

It’s important for parents to discuss the need to balance the amount of time spent on and offline; one way to do this is to talk about recognising signs that our bodies need a break from the screen. This can sometimes be difficult (especially for younger children or children with special educational needs) so there are tools we can use to help us to recognise how long we are spending online and to remind us to take time offline. Talk to your children about these how these tools can help; by doing this, you can explore their views and understanding of screen time and empower them to listen, both to us and their own bodies.

It’s also important to role-model a balanced use of screens for your child; if they feel that we are always on our phones, despite telling them it’s not okay, then they may pick up conflicting messages. One of the best approaches will be to have regular conversations together about healthy and balanced screen time. Screen time isn’t always problematic, so why not talk with them about what they are doing online – you might find that it’s more educational than you think!

Laura Higgins

Director of Community Safety and Digital Civility, Roblox
Expert Website

The online world increasingly provides an extension to the playparks where children meet to wind down, hang out, and learn with their friends and peers. At Roblox, we believe play is an essential activity, both in itself and as a tool to learn soft skills; how to communicate with others, how to work as a team, how to problem-solve. The key is to ensure children have a healthy mix of opportunities to discover the world – both on and offline – and to communicate with them on why this variety is important.

Many of the online worlds focused on children offer additional learning and development opportunities layered into the element of ‘play’ – from those teaching maths and literacy comprehension, right through to platforms like Roblox that are built with teaching children to code in mind. It’s important to spend time with your children to help them understand how the skills they learn on-screen can fit to the offline world, and to define what ‘quality’ screen time looks like – but also to give them room to play and be kids.

  • Hannah says:

    I am really frustrated by the difficulty of finding parental controls that are designed to teach time management. I am on my second downloaded, extra control on Windows ten, and it is driving me crazy – mostly because it’s set up such that the child can’t see their timetables independently, making it pretty much useless. I’m quite happy to pay for one that works, at that!

    The features I want from a control are:

    Ability to set regular down time other than night time (so the computer can go off between 12pm-1pm, 4pm-6pm, and 10pm-8pm, rather than only for one consecutive period each day).

    The ability to set time limits on individual websites, so it is possible to say only one hour a day on email, but can look up things on Wikipedia or Britannica at all times except down time.

    The capacity for the user to view all their limits and timetables easily while using the computer.

    It works reasonably bug free, and doesn’t keep informing the user the limits have expired when they haven’t! (Yes, my current one keeps doing this).

    Is this an unusual set of requirements? I’m finding researching really annoying, due to the lack of information about the details of the features on most of these programmes.

Write the comment