Kids And Screen Time: What Parents Should Know

Children’s use of technology and social media has become a focus for modern-day parents. What is an appropriate amount of screen time and how should it be monitored? How does use of technology impact children?

Attempting to gauge how much screen time children should partake in can be a difficult balancing act for parents.  Generally,  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children and teens have no more than one to two hours of screen time – including television, computers, and video games –  per day. For toddlers, the thinking continues to evolve – while previously it was recommended that children have no screen time until age 2, there is now more flexible thinking regarding the use of interactive media such as Skype and FaceTime. Limiting screen time is associated with a variety of long-term health benefits, including stronger language skills, more opportunities to engage socially, and lower rates of obesity.

As a child psychologist, I encourage parents to follow the tips below to ensure kids learn how to safely and smartly use the technology around them:

  • Structure the use of technology. Since most children and teens are highly motivated by use of the iPad, cellphone, or computer, earning screen time can be a highly effective way to help children practice positive behaviors—completing homework, chores, or morning and night routines. Since immediate rewards work best in helping children make behavior changes, awarding a child screen time daily or points towards weekend screen time can be motivating.
  • Ensure proper supervision to build trust and responsibility. When introducing more opportunities for screen time—like buying children their first phone or iPad—parents have the best results when children build up to earning more time and independence.
  • Manage the use of screen time. Using the computer for homework can make it difficult for parents to manage screen time. Many students find themselves switching between researching for a paper and chatting with friends, and ample research shows that multitasking actually leads to less effectiveness and efficiency because it reduces the brain’s opportunity to think deeply about one thing. Children and teens are likely to need help with planning out their homework schedules and building in breaks to surf or chat with peers.
  • Socialize properly with technology. Spending too much time on screens decreases opportunities for face-to-face social interactions, leaving children with fewer opportunities to read facial expressions and cues, or to practice responding verbally and immediately in conversation. Skype and FaceTime can actually help here. Good social skills are obviously critical for friendships, relationships, and skills like interviewing for schools and jobs.