Talking to your kids about screen time and its effects

By Ben Pulsford

Recent research by Internet Matters has found that almost half of all parents’ worry about the amount of time their kids spend in front of screens. And if you’re reading this, it’s likely you fall into the concerned side of that split and have some questions about screen time for kids.

We’ve entered a unique technological age that almost no one thought possible – and the kids of today were born into that age, which means they know no different. In some ways, screen time is all the time.

This means that kids are some of the biggest slaves to the screen (which used to just mean the tele and a slow computer that screamed back at us, but today means laptops, smartphones and tablets that seem to run our lives).

So how do you limit screen time when screens are not just a part of everyday life, they are everyday life? How do you get them to look up more than down? How do you reduce screen time for your child and – while we’re on a roll here – what is a healthy screen time for them, anyway?

The answer to all of these questions is as simple as talking to them – and no, not via WhatsApp, DM or a video call; an actual face-to-face conversation where you can chat to them about the importance of taking screen breaks and what too much screen time actually means.

So, if you are worried (and at least 47% of you are) and are looking to limit screen time in your house, keep reading.

We’ve entered a unique technological age that almost no one thought possible – and the kids of today were born into that age, which means they know no different. In some ways, screen time is all the time.This means that kids are some of the biggest slaves to the screen (which used to just mean the tele and a slow computer that screamed back at us, but today means laptops, smartphones and tablets that seem to run our lives).

So how do you limit screen time when screens are not just a part of everyday life, they are everyday life? How do you get them to look up more than down? How do you reduce screen time for your child and – while we’re on a roll here – what is a healthy screen time for them, anyway?The answer to all of these questions is as simple as talking to them – and no, not via WhatsApp, DM or a video call; an actual face-to-face conversation where you can chat to them about the importance of taking screen breaks and what too much screen time actually means.

So, if you are worried (and at least 47% of you are) and are looking to limit screen time in your house, keep reading.

What is screen time?

This sounds simple, we know, but walk up to a child and say: “I’m worried about all this screen time you’re clocking” and they’re likely to just stare at you blankly. So let’s try and avoid that.

Start by having an informal chat about screen time; explain what it is and how there are positives and negatives to using a screen for hours and hours on end. Give them a screen time definition.

Screen time refers to an activity that involves interacting with any type of screen. Such activity includes the following: watching television, playing on a computer, playing a video game, using a smartphone, using a tablet and using a smartwatch.

Stress that screens are everywhere. Perhaps get them to think about how many screens they’ve interacted with that day? That number might surprise them and is a great entry point into a larger conversation.

Effects of screen time on children

Is screen time bad for you? What are the effects of screen time on children? Are scream time and behavioural problems linked? Well, firstly remember that screen time isn’t necessarily always a bad thing.

Just as we do, children use the internet to keep in touch and interact with friends and family, keep up with what’s going on in the world, learn and have fun. Remember too that a lot of homework is done in front of a screen these days.

The key is the amount of screen time your child (specifically) is clocking and how its affecting them ­– because there are widely discussed negative effects of screen time.

So what are the negative effects of too much screen time on children? Well, there are few, and before speaking to your child, have a think about which of these you’ve already recognised in them.

Negative effects of screen time can include disrupted sleep and staying awake, which can lead to all sorts of mental and physical health risks. Screen time can also stop kids from going outside, enjoying and benefiting from social interaction and getting regular exercise; this can affect their energy levels and overall health. Too much screen time can also affect the quality of a child’s school work, if they are neglecting homework to play on a screen, for example. If they are using social media or online games, screen time can lead to cyber bullying which overtime can affect a child’s mental health.

How much screen time is too much?

In the same study by Internet Matters that we mentioned above, researchers found that 56% of parents’ felt that their child asked to use a device with a screen more than they’d like.

So, how much screen time should kids be getting? Unfortunately, there are no official guidelines for parents that we can share with you on this.

There are, of course, screen time recommendations – a lot of people seem to think that more than two hours everyday is too much for most children – but these recommendations vary.

Instead, it’s best to work out a specific limit for your child – which is where talking to them directly and learning their daily habits will help you. Think more about how much screen time is healthy for them and them alone.

If you ask us, it’s about balance. Think about the screens your child actually requires every day and then balance it out with the screen time they enjoy, as well as the amount of time they spend outdoors and exercising. Work with them to build a healthy amount of screen time around the day.

So, the question you should be asking is: Are you in control of the screen time?

Screen time recommendations by age

This is a regularly Googled one. But again, screen time guidelines for young people vary depending on who you ask.

That being said, a good starting point is to refer to what the NHS recommends. A quick Google will show you that the NHS recommends that all children aged five to 18 get at least 60 minutes’ worth of activity every day. A question you should be considering is: Is too much screen time stopping your child from getting at least an hour’s exercise every day?

Again this falls down to your child’s specific needs and working out a schedule with them which helps them get a good daily balance of screen time and non-screen time; keeping them healthy both mentally and physically.

In short, bring screen time into the dialogue between you and your children to take control of the issue, instead of worrying about it.

Trusted by parents, loved by children and encouraged by teachers.

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