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How to manage children’s screen time

Here, we share our tips for encouraging healthy screen time among young children, and highlight several key issues for parents and carers.
Here’s our top five strategies to achieve healthy screen time in young children. Be aware. Keep a record of how much time children spend in front of a screen by completing a diary for one week. Try to assist them in spending at least the same amount of time being active. Use the diary to plan key periods of the day or week that could be targeted to reduce children’s screen time. Set limits. Screen time, like all other activities, should have reasonable limits. Does the child’s technology use help or hinder participation in other activities? Setting limits could, for example, include deciding which programs to watch ahead of time and agreeing to turn off the screen when those programs are over.
Initially, children might have difficulties in adjusting to new rules or routines, but these will eventually become the new habit if adults are consistent. Create tech free zones. This could include mealtimes, bedrooms, or rest times. In particular, preserve family or group meal times. Avoid having screens in children’s bedrooms and recharge devices overnight outside of children’s bedrooms. Try to establish a sleep pr rest routine that doesn’t involve screen time. These actions encourage social interactions and family time, healthier eating habits, and healthier sleep. Avoid leaving the TV on for background noise. This can interfere with children’s social interactions and language development. And children can’t watch TV if it is not on.
If it is hard not having the TV on, try using a sleep function, so it turns off automatically. Don’t screen and eat. Avoid allowing children to eat while watching TV or playing electronic games. If children need a snack, make sure it is a healthy one that includes fresh fruit or vegetables. Be a good role model. Parents and carers should limit their own media use. Attentive parenting or caring requires face time away from screens. Suggest other activities such as blocks, toys, board games, puzzles, art and craft, cooking, or going for a walk. Try to provide alternatives for children that get them moving and burning energy, such as dancing, bike riding, ball games, or other forms of active play.

Here, we share our tips for encouraging healthy screen time among young children. When reviewing screen time guidelines for young children in 2015, the American Academy of Pediatrics highlighted several key issues for parents and carers.

Key tips

  • Playtime is important. Unstructured playtime stimulates creativity. Prioritise daily unplugged playtime, especially for the very young.
  • Set limits. Tech use, like all other activities, should have reasonable limits. Does your child’s technology use help or hinder participation in other activities?
  • Create tech-free zones. Preserve family mealtimes. Recharge devices overnight outside your child’s bedroom. These actions encourage family time, healthier eating habits, and healthier sleep patterns.
  • Co-engagement counts. Family participation with media facilitates social interactions and learning. Play a video game with your kids. Your perspective influences how your children understand their media experience. For infants and toddlers, co-viewing is essential.
  • Role modeling is critical. Limit your own media use, and model online etiquette. Attentive parenting requires face time away from screens.
  • We learn from each other. Neuroscience research shows that very young children learn best via two-way communication. “Talk time” between caregiver and child remains critical for language development. Passive video presentations do not lead to language learning in infants and young toddlers. The more media engender live interactions, the more educational value they may hold (e.g. a toddler chatting by video with a parent who is traveling). Optimal educational media opportunities begin after age 2, when media may play a role in bridging the learning achievement gap.
  • Content matters. The quality of content is more important than the platform or time spent with media. Prioritise how your child spends their time rather than just setting a timer.
  • Curation helps. More than 80,000 apps are labelled as educational, but little research validates their quality (Hirsh-Pasek, 2015). An interactive product requires more than “pushing and swiping” to teach. Look to organisations like Common Sense Media that review age-appropriate apps, games and programmes.
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