The internet offers amazing opportunities for children to learn new things, communicate with friends and entertain themselves. However, too much screen time has been associated with behavioral problems, learning delays, sleep problems and obesity. Most children under 5 are getting more screen time than recommended. While not all screen time is bad, most children need parental guidance and supervision of their media use.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends avoiding any screen time for children under 18 months. Children under 2 years benefit most from face-to-face interaction. If you want to introduce screens to kids at this age, watch child-friendly programs together.
For kids between 2–5 years, less than 1 hour of screen time is recommended. Co-watch with your children and make sure they spend enough time on healthy offline activities too. Children from 6 to 12 years should generally get less than 2 hours of screen time. Make sure that screen time does not replace physical activity or sleep.
Because teens communicate with friends online a lot, limiting their screen time is more complicated. What you can do is agree on media-free times and areas.
Limiting screen time is challenging when kids use more than one device. Children connect with their friends both online and offline. Restricting these social interactions may feel unfair.
Also, all children are different. One follows the agreed rules easily while the other requires strict technological controls. Explain why you set certain limits and use a parental control app to keep screen time under control.
Many parents are still looking for ways to guide and control their children’s media use. Think critically, as not all screen time is created equal. You should know what your children are doing online and focus on limiting the problematic screen time. Developing skills online is an example of healthy screen time, whereas endlessly streaming videos on YouTube might not be.
Our children are digital natives. The internet and digital devices will remain a major part of their lives. Therefore, focusing only on restrictions is not sustainable. Our job as parents is to protect and guide our children — online and offline. We should teach our children to self-regulate and behave in the right manner. Responsible online behavior protects children from online threats and will benefit them throughout their lives.
Digital rules are an effective tool for guiding healthy use of devices. Define the rules together with your family and live up to them. When will you have media-free time? Are devices allowed during meals or after bedtime? Which activities need to get done before screen time — homework, hobbies, chores? Encourage open discussion about online habits and ensure media use stays under control by enforcing screen time limits with technology.
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