How much screen time is healthy for kids?

Nowadays, children of all ages are getting more screen time than ever before. And here at Childhealthy, we find parents often want to know how much screen time is healthy for kids.

It's a confusing subject as there are so many conflicting opinions out there, and it can be hard to separate fact from fiction. 

The age of your child is a big factor in making decisions about screen time. The general consensus is that for younger children, less screen time is better. For older children and adolescents, encouraging and role modelling good habits with screens becomes more important. 

Our overall advice from Childhealthy is to be aware of screen time and avoid overreliance on it for younger children. It also pays to be aware of the potential online risks for older children and teenagers, but equally not be too harsh on ourselves as parents for the occasional lapse!

It is really all about setting your own limits on screen time so that families can find a healthy balance between the pros and cons of technology use.

 

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The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) states that: 

“The evidence base for a direct ‘toxic’ effect of screen time is contested, and the evidence of harm is often overstated. The majority of the literature that does exist looks only at television screen time. Evidence is weak for a threshold to guide children and parents to the appropriate level of screen time, and we are unable to recommend a cut-off for children's screen time overall.”

 

The RCPCH recommends that you discuss with your child when to use screens, how much they should use them, and set some boundaries that work for your own family life. You can do this by looking at how much screen time is being used, and if your child is balancing it well with other activities. They also recommend not using a screen an hour before bedtime as it can interfere with their sleep.

 

The Americian Academy of Paediatrics and Child and Adolescent Psychiatry have made recommendations and suggest considering the following as a guideline:

  • Until 18 months of age, limit screen time to video chatting along with an adult (for example, with a grandparent who lives further away).
  • Between 18 and 24 months, screen time should be limited to watching educational programming with a parent or carer.
  • For children aged 2-5, limit non-educational screen time to around an hour a day and up to 3 hours on the weekends.
  • For ages 6 and older, encourage healthy habits and try and limit activities that include screens.
  • Turn off all screens during family meals and outings.
  • Learn about and use parental controls on their devices.
  • Avoid using screens as pacifiers, babysitters, or to stop tantrums.
  • Turn off screens and remove them from bedrooms 30-60 minutes before bedtime.

How can I reduce screen time at home?

Here are some useful things to think about if you plan on talking to your child about reducing the amount of screen time they have at home.

  • Be aware of your own screen use - lead by example, do you spend a lot of time on your phone?
  • Prioritise face-to-face activities - online interaction is great, but no substitute for real life.
  • Protect their sleep - no screens for an hour before bedtime will help them to switch off and sleep better.
  • Try to be aware but not judgmental when it comes to teenagers’ use of the internet. 

 

There are some useful resources below that provide interesting facts and studies on screen time to help you decide what’s best for your family. 

If you are concerned about your child’s behaviour or development, you can book an appointment with one of our paediatricians. They’ll be happy to offer reassurance and advice.

 

Useful resources:

FFF Screen time and children

RCPCH Screen time guide (PDF)

RCPCH screen time parent fact sheet (PDF)

Infographic with key thoughts on screen time from children and young people (PDF)

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