If you’re planning to get involved in National Unplugging Day, I’d bet at least a pack of Maltesers that you’ve been trying to answer the one question I get asked more than any other. “How much screentime is healthy for kids”? As the Founder of TimeTokens, here’s a quick summary of expert advice and tips, to help make decisions that are right for your children.
When we were young, we had the natural screentime breaks of the news or something equally dull that made you do something else… Sunday afternoon football results were my instant turn off!
No such boredom exists today. Thanks to online compilations, a child can watch 3 hours of Peppa Pig with NO interruption. The natural “stopping rule” we experienced is long gone, and has been replaced with a default continuation rule. It’s this that makes screentime so hard to manage.
Too many screen-based hours are preventing our kids from doing all the things they need to do – outdoor play, socialising, having fun, making mistakes – to help them become robust and resilient adults. All these things cannot be learnt on screens or taught in school – they are life experiences.
What Counts as Screentime?
‘Screentime’ is any time your child spends on any screen or device for fun. Such as … ipad, smartphone, computer, play station, TV, laptop…. Time on screens for homework is not included… but if they tell you they are doing homework and really th/ey are playing FIFA – that’s included!
How Much Screentime is Healthy
First thing to remember – screentime is not all bad. Our 7 year old children will be doing jobs in 2030 that we can’t even conceive of in 2017, and it is certain that digital skills will form key skills for them. It’s the sheer volume of time children are spending on screens which concern us.
Experts generally recommend children aged 3-5 years have no more than an hour and children aged 5-18 no more than 2 hours of screentime a day. When you add on daily screentime for homework that becomes a lot of hours in front of a screen!
If you use the following as a very rough guide you won’t be going far wrong:-
3-7 year olds – half an hour to an hour a day
7-12 year olds – 1 hour a day
12-15 year olds – 1 and a half hours a day
16+ 2 hours a day
If you’d rather not be limited by a guide, you could follow advice from the American Association of Pediatrics, AAP.
They suggest that for children from age 6 onwards, parents should decide how much time their child can have on screens based on what works for their family, BUT that they must make sure before any screentime is allowed adequate time has been put aside for daily priorities. These include in 1 hour of physical activity, time for social interaction, downtime, home work, reading, family time, school, sleep and then anything that’s left can be quality screentime that involves parents… which actually leaves around 1-1.5 hours so both methods come to the same result.
3 Tips on How to Make Screentime Healthier for Your Child
Here’s some tips on how to make the time they do spend on screens healthier:
1:- How your child uses their screens : Try and encourage them to use screens/media in ways that promote interaction, connection and creativity. So it’s good to mix things up, get them using lots of different types of media rather than get stuck doing the same thing hour after hour.Co-viewing/watching /playing with your child is good: Try to spend time viewing what your child is watching with them, or if they are playing a game, play with them, this sort of interaction and discussion from an early age can help educate them about media/internet. Research has also found that children learn better from media when they are co-viewing and engaging with a parent / adult. It will also give you a better sense of the sort of things your child enjoys playing and allow you to feel more connected with them. Also gives you a chance to educate them on the risks of being online.
2:- Help them choose media that is worth the time: More than 80,000 apps are labelled as educational, but little research has demonstrated their actual quality. Products pitched as ‘interactive’ should require more than ‘pushing & swiping’. Look to organisations like Common Sense Media for reviews about age-appropriate apps and games. Here are some suggestions from Internet matters on best educational apps to keep your child safe online – check them out here.
3:- Let them be bored! Finally, if all else fails, remember it’s good for children to be bored. They are completely over-scheduled and need time every day to relax and chill out. Don’t always feel you have to entertain your child. It’s good for them to sit and just be. Not to have to be ‘doing’ all the time.
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