Quick Tips

How to Avoid Too Much Screen Time for Children and Teenagers

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

How many of you have seen “Eighth Grade”? 

The 2018 movie is a coming-of-age story about 13-year-old Kayla who is navigating her way through the last week of middle school in the era of social media. Among other things, Kayla posts videos of herself on YouTube, giving advice on abstracts such as confidence. (The irony, of course, is that she has none.) And, throughout the 94-minute feature film, Kayla is almost often found on her phone.

OK, now, how many of you can relate? And, of those who can’t, maybe it’s not that smartphone, but other types of screens: a computer, a tablet, a television. (Remember that “screen time” encompasses more than just a phone, even though those pesky things are seemingly ubiquitous among teens these days.)

If it’s not all of you, we’d be surprised. Children and teenagers are indeed so attached to their connected devices that, at times, it may have you wondering how much screen time is too much. And, while you may be thinking of limiting it, you may also be curious as to how much screen time is healthy. 

And, as always, Kinetic by Windstream is here to help! Read on to learn the answers to those burning questions, along with screen time recommendations and more.

How Much Screen Time Is Too Much? 

Many will say that children and teens have already reached the “too much” point. In fact, one study by Common Sense Media found that tweens (ages 8-12) spent a little more than four hours a day with some sort of screen, while teens (ages 13-18) spent a whopping six hours and 40 minutes of screen time a day — and that excludes using media for school or homework. An older study revealed that one-third of 12- to 15-year-olds watched television for two hours a day, while another 6.9 percent watched five hours or more a day.

Some research has even shown that kids spend as much as seven hours a day in front of different types of screens.

Too much? Surely. Particularly when you start looking at some of the consequences that come along with too much screen time.

Take childhood obesity, for example. Increased screen time has been linked to more eating while viewing (by as much as 167 additional calories per every hour of television watched), exposure to enticing ads for unhealthy foods and reduced sleep duration. The National Sleep Foundation says that for every hour spent on a device, infants and toddlers get 15.6 minutes less sleep and older children lose an average of 26.4 minutes of sleep.

Too much screen time is also correlated with attention and behavior problems.  

Is Any Screen Time Healthy?

By about now, you’re likely ready to enforce some limits on screen time. But, there is also the case of healthy usage. After all, we are living in the Information Age, and where else is there a wealth of knowledge than the Internet? 

As Dr. Tara Narula told CBS News, digital technology “can introduce [children] to ideas, information, current events, even health education that they may not get normally. It can also connect them socially to people who may live far away geographically, like family and friends, and allow them to be involved in school projects and assignments.” 

There are indeed many free online resources — even games —  that can help further your child’s education, particularly during the summer or school holidays. So, it’s best to determine your children’s media and digital technology usage and how much screen time is healthy.

Screen Time Recommendations

The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages any screen time — save for perhaps video-chatting — for children younger than 18 months. For children between the ages of 18 to 24 months, use supervised screen time, as they will learn from watching and talking with you. The academy recommends limiting screen time for children aged 2- to 5-years-old to one hour a day.

The academy doesn’t provide recommended screen time for teenagers and tweens, but there are a few rules of thumb that you can do to ensure your child has a healthy relationship with his or her devices.

1. Introduce digital devices when you feel it is appropriate.

Just because every other 12-year-old in your child’s class has a smartphone doesn’t mean he or she needs one as well, especially if you feel like your child isn’t mature enough for that responsibility yet. The beauty of technology is that, as a parent, you can introduce devices to your children when you think they are ready.

2. Teach digital literacy, and practice what you preach.

Preferably, before your child gets his or her hands on a new device, teach them digital literacy and online etiquette. Include a lesson or two about cyberbullying, how to spot it and what to do about it. This also means that you’re your child’s No. 1 example of how to act and react online and with devices. That said, you won’t want to be on your phone or tablet all the time, while telling your child he or she shouldn’t be.

3. Have tech-free areas or times.

The easiest example of this is to ban the use of digital devices in certain areas of the house or during certain activities, such as family meals. Other examples are removing televisions from children’s bedrooms and ensuring your kid charges his or her devices outside of the bedroom. Piggybacking on this tip: don’t use screen time as a problem solver. It’s not there to calm your child, nor is it there to keep your child busy while you complete this or that task. There are healthier ways to satisfy each of those.

4. Encourage unplugged activities.

There’s life outside of your devices! Encourage other activities that will keep your child stimulated mentally (reading, puzzles, etc.) and physically (exercise, sports, games, etc.). 

5. Participate in their screen time.

As a parent, you may feel it’s your duty to simply supervise. Better yet, though, is if you participate in your child’s screen time. Is he playing his favorite online games? Play along. Is she watching her favorite shows? Watch with her. You get the idea. Participating not only allows you to monitor but also to interact with your child while he or she is enjoying some of his or her favorite activities.

And, if you’re terribly concerned about your child’s device usage, limit screen time. In this age, there are even apps and products that can help you do that.

Screen time isn’t an all or nothing game. But, know that every family unit is unique and will likely respond differently to how much screen time is healthy for them. Try completing a family media plan with this American Academy of Pediatrics tool. And, once you’ve figured out your family’s limits, get a connection like Kinetic Internet that will give you enough speeds for the entire household!