How Much is Too Much Screen Time?
Created by Yoo-Young Kim Updated on Sep 28, 2018
Parents in this newly emerging digital era have more to concern about than before: smartphones and tablets, with a wave of new contents for kids every day. Usually, the gadgets come in handy in keeping our children engaged and calming them down. Yet as more cases of child tech-addiction get broadcasted, parents start to worry -- ‘so, how much screen time should I allow for my child?’
It’s the Content – Research Says
One point to keep in mind for all parents is that the screen time itself is less important than content. Main concern is what the child is doing on the device, rather than for how long. Studies from Oxford Internet Institute and Cardiff University, University of Michigan and London School of Economics all agree on this point.
Is a child watching something like Sesame Street or Peppa Pig, (age-appropriate, educational and entertaining)? Then you can relax for now and just decide how long you will allow him or her to watch. However, even 3 minutes shouldn’t be allowed if the child is surfing through YouTube channels or clicking on Amazon.
But do we still need to think about limiting the time? Yes.
Start With 40 Minutes
Doctors from American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend a maximum of one hour of “high-quality programming” for children under 6. Maximum one hour. So, my Odinga team and I would recommend that, to be safe, parents start with 40 minutes per day. It could be 20 minutes after the child gets home from daycare or preschool, then another 20 minutes after dinner.
Here are some tips to manage time:
- Set a routine time and zone for devices (Example) After coming back from preschool on the living room sofa every day for 40 minutes.
- Limit by episode or round of games. Concept of time is blurry to many kids. Tell your child “Let’s watch one episode of Peppa Pig before we read the book. OK?”
- Prepare something fun before your child finishes usage. To avoid temper tantrums, divert attention to something new right after the device use. Play-dough, coloring book, or toys can be some examples.
- Be firm and repeat for at least 21 days. When the child begins to whine, just say ‘No’ in a firm but warm way, as you do when your child wants too much sweet. Stand by the rule and repeat it at least for 21 days until it becomes a habit.
- Make a visible checklist and put it somewhere it is easy to see. It can be a simple calendar printed off from Google, to mark off or put a smiley face on per day, if the child kept the screen time rule (if the child is 4 or older). Reward fully when the child completes 7 days, 14 days, and 21 days. Then, the next week and the month will be much easier.
- Get support from technology
If you need to leave your child alone with the device, use the parental managing apps. Just search for them on app stores; apps like Odinga and SecureKids will pop up easily. These apps basically limit the time and allow only safe contents for your child.
Already Watching More Than 40 min.?
If your child is already using the gadget longer than 40 min., here are some tips:
- First, make sure you know what your child is doing on the phone. Is it really just watching YouTube Kids videos? Or is she or he sometimes on YouTube for adults?
- Second, start with small steps. Help him or her pause for about 5 min. every 40 minutes by giving him or her some snacks in between, or going to the bathroom, brushing teeth, etc. It is most important to divert his or her attention from the gadget as long as possible.
- Then, gradually limit the screen time by allowing him or her 1 less episode per day. And if possible, go outside and let him or her play all energy out! Remember, yelling and harshly scolding the children is not the way to develop good habits! Reward him with something the child likes, when he or she has done well!
About the Author: Yoo-Young has studied Educational Psychology at Harvard Graduate School of Education (M. Ed) and worked with children at an international school. Now she is researching and planning talks on children’s tech use and parental control app ‘Odinga’ at a Korean Ed. Tech The Plan G.