Screen Time: How much is too much?
By Patience Domowski, LCSW
“Screen Time”- how much is too much? Is it affecting our children? Parents want to know!
According to the AAP (the American Academy of Pediatricians) children under age 1 should not have screen time, ages 2-5 should have about 1 hour and be on it with their parents, and over age 6 should set ‘consistent limits’ to make sure they have time for other important things. *
So what should those ‘consistent limits’ be? And how much time do they need for other important things? Unfortunately there is no clear cut amount of hours to recommend because each child and family varies.
What’s important to look at is what types of screen use is the child accessing and are they spending time doing things other than look at screens. Watching TV, or even Youtube videos is more mindless than playing a challenging or educational strategy game on a device. It’s important for parents to be aware of what their child is doing on their devices. Are they accessing videos that are inappropriate or adult-rated websites or violent games? Are they getting into cyber bullying and social media problems? These are things to be aware of and monitor. Check your child’s browser history, phone use, etc, periodically.
It’s important for good brain development and social skills for kids to spend time interacting ‘in real life’ not just virtually so make sure they are spending several hours playing outside, interacting with friends and siblings, and creating something - whether building with blocks or making crafts, or cooking. Being creative is helpful for teaching many important life lessons. Interacting with others provides opportunities for social skills development and promotes happiness. Make sure there is some family time where all devices are down (you too, mom and dad!) and you’re talking and playing together. Daily, if possible!
Is electronic usage affecting your child? Several parents have told me they noticed a big difference in their child’s mood and behavior when the child was on punishment and restricted from electronic usage. The child seemed happier and less difficult when not on their games, after being off for some time. Often children get overly frustrated with games, get upset when it doesn’t work out their way, get addicted to the immediate satisfaction of the game ‘reading’ them with points or level ups. If they aren't progressing in the game they get angry and irritable. If they are playing violent games they start acting out those behaviors on siblings, sometimes. They are also not spending enough time doing other things if on their screens all the time, so they are getting bored (though they won’t admit it!) and lack of exercise may be affecting them too.
Many children are getting addicted to gaming. Signs and symptoms include:
Constantly talking about the game, and no other subject, thinking only of the game all the time
Has this drive or need to be on the game at all times, including not wanting to do other activities so can be on the game (wants to avoid school, sports activities, even seeing friends so has time to play games)
Cannot go more than a few minutes without being on a device
Has no other interests besides games
Gets very upset if cannot be on the game or told to get off it
Not getting up to use the bathroom, eat, or other important things while gaming
Hours spent on the game without any other activity or interruption (often child won’t be aware of how many hours they have spent)
Take a quiz online to see if your child may be addicted.** (Link to quiz in references below). If your child seems to be suffering from this, there are resources out there such as therapists specializing in addiction, support groups, and other tips you can find on reducing gaming time and enjoying more of time outside of gaming. If you are concerned then there probably needs to be some intervention whether its as simple as parents limiting online time, to more intensive options such as contacting a therapist or support group for help.
Getting your child to do more activities may be helpful such as encouraging them to play outside, have real-life playdates, take up a club at school or other program, play a sport, or be involved in some other activity. For teens maybe volunteering, or getting a job can get them doing other things. If the child resists, you can still set limits on the time and type of screen time they are allowed and insist they cannot be on the games for x amount of time or during this time period even if they refuse to participate in another activity. Remember it’s okay for kids to be bored as that bored feeling can foster creativity. Have them come up with some other activities they can do instead of screen time. Maybe even reward them with a certain amount of screen time per other time spent (such as if play outside for 1 hour= can be on the ipad for 30 minutes later).
Important things to think about:
Be aware of what your child is doing on their devices, including what websites, what games they play. Are they appropriate, etc. Look at the ratings on games, look online to check what professionals say about them. Plugged in, and Common Sense Media rate movies, games, TV shows, etc for parents so you don’t have to do the research yourself. (See links below). ***
Recognize any differences in child’s emotions and behavior when on and off the games- are they more depressed, angry because of the games or when told to get off the games?
How much time are they spending on games? Is it all their free time? Do they ever play outside or with other children in real life, or only online? Do they spend time doing anything else? Set limits and parental controls. Use the Media Time calculator, and Net Nanny controls if needed. ****
Does your child have other interests besides video games, TV, or social media? Do they spend any time doing other activities? If not- encourage and insist on other activities in and outside of the home.
Are their school grades suffering because they are only gaming and not doing homework? Have child finish their homework and parents check it before they can get on any devices.
Are they showing signs of addiction? Can they go some time without reaching for a device? If they are showing some concerning signs look into getting some help and support.
**Video Game Addiction test and resources
Types of treatment for Video Game Addiction
***Plugged in Magazine, and Common Sense Media- Reviews of movies, TV shows, Video games, including rating their age appropriateness and other content.
****Media use calculator:
Net Nanny- sets up parental controls on devices and provides helpful blog articles