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Limit Screen Time (Why and How)

In this ever increasing digital age, parents have a tough job navigating it all for the first time. I am often thankful that I didn’t grow up in the age of cell phones and tablets. Our kids have so much information available at their fingertips and in a way that is a huge blessing but it is also a huge challenge. As parents we have to make them pull their eyes off the screen and interact with the real world. Our kids need to talk to real people face-to-face.

They need to build, see, and do things in person. They need to have lots of family time to create family bonds and memories. It is a tough job, but parents have got to be responsible for limiting their child’s screen time. Here are some tips and guidelines for how to limit screen time for kids and help them learn to manage screen time for themselves. If we are being honest, even adults need to limit screen time for themselves.

Should Parents Limit Screen Time For Kids?

Yes, they absolutely should. If the past few years have left you feeling more concerned than ever about screen time in your household, rest assured you’re not alone.

Screen time is nothing new, but there’s no doubt it increased for most families during and since the pandemic. As life spun upside down and school moved online, most kids began spending much more time glued to screens for learning as well as play.

Even before COVID, parents were growing more concerned about screen time. In a 2018 Pew Research survey, two-thirds of parents said they were concerned about their teen’s levels of screen time. In a more recent survey conducted by family advocacy group ParentsTogether, 82% of parents said they are worried about their childrens’ screen time – particularly time spent on social media.

Is Screen Time Bad for Kids?

There’s a lot of information and perspectives out there on screens. It’s not hard to find people talking about screen time being evil or destructive for kids’ wellbeing. But in reality, not all screens and not all screen time is created equal. When used appropriately and in good balance, screens from TVs to tablets can be powerful tools that open new worlds of learning, discovery, training, and fun to kids.

Why should we limit children’s screen time? There’s valid reason for concern. Here are just a few of the reasons many parents and educators are raising the alarm:

  • Cyberbullying: Experts warn that more kids are experiencing cyberbullying online

  • Mental health: Experts also warn that higher levels of screen time and social media usage seem to correlate to mental health concerns and depression.

  • Lack of activity: Kids today tend to spend too much time in front of screens, often at the expense of time spent outside and being active.

How Much Screen Time is Right for Kids?

There’s no absolute answer to this question (though there’s lots of perspectives). Let’s start with how much time kids actually spend in front of screens. According to Common Sense Media, kids between the ages of 5-8 spend over 3 hrs per day on a screen, which has only increased since the pandemic.

Generally speaking it’s recommended to avoid any screen time for children under 18 months old. Keeping screen time limited (and high quality) is best for kids under 2, and by the time kids reach ages 2-5 experts tend to suggest limiting screen time to an hour or less per day. As kids get older, recommendations tend to vary quite a bit!

Some may advocate for harsh limits or blackouts, the reality is that screens are a part of life today! That doesn’t make screens evil – but it does mean there’s a need for parents to work toward building healthy screen time boundaries and habits and to be intentional about the when, where, how, and what of screen time.

So to help you start, here are four common sense, practical starting-point strategies to getting screen time right for your family.

How to set screen time limits for kids

Tips For Limiting Screen Time For Kids

Almost all parents would say, “I wish my kids spent less time on their electronic devices.” The thing is, most parents feel like limiting screen time is a hassle, and most kids contribute to that feeling without compunction! Here are some tips to help you set screen time limits and help your child manage their screen time within those limits.

1. Set Screen Time Limits For Kids

You may be asking yourself, “What is too much screen time for kids?” Well that is exactly where this whole process should start- with thinking mindfully about how much screen time you want your child to be able to have each day. You may want to consult the American Academy of Pediatrics and/or the World Health Organization for their recommendations on screen time for kids. If you don’t set limits, it is way too easy, “Can I watch another show?” to become hours of unintentional viewing. Applying screen time limits will contribute to children’s motor development, cognitive development, and lifelong health. Parents should discuss these screen time limits and present a united front.

2. Explain Screen Time Limits

It always helps people to be self motivated when they understand the why behind things. All ages can understand that less screen time is import to spending more time together doing fun things. Play this one up and remember it yourself because they are only little for a little while- enjoy spending time with them! Older kids may also understand that there are negative effects of too much screen time. compiled research that states that too much screen time may lead to obesity, sleep problems, behavior problems, educational problems, and violence. I bet you notice that your kids often seem tired and irritable when they get off their devices. Help them recognize that too.

3. Be collaborative about boundaries

We all know what it’s like to be told “no, you can’t.” Whether you’re a kid or an adult, let’s be real — it’s no fun. But how different does it feel when someone helps you understand the problem and invites you into building the solution? All of a sudden you’re no victim, you’re a collaborator.

Kids need that same invitation when it comes to screen time. How much screen time do kids need? Well, what if you asked your kids? What would they say? Try making it a project – grab a big ol’ piece of paper, markers, and make it a family activity to map out a plan to help everyone spend less time with screens and more time playing together. It is good to have already picked a target limit for screen time with your partner (tip #1) before hand so you don’t get too off track or disagree with you partner too much during this negotiation process.

Setting shared goals can be a wonderful way to come together and make a memory while you’re at it. Who knows, you might just be amazed at what your youngsters dream up! For those with a little older kids, check out the great resources that Screen Sanity has developed for having collaborative conversations with your kids about how they engage with technology.

4. Give screen time a “home,” not just a time limit

“Place” has a powerful way of creating associations in the mind – especially the rapidly developing minds of our little ones. In recent years, researchers have uncovered incredible insights into how the mind forms and sustains new habits. Our minds tend to create loops or patterns in which something triggers an action to receive a reward. One way researchers suggest breaking a habit? Disrupt the loop.

A very practical way to do this is to rethink not just how your family does something (in this case spending time in front of a screen), but where. While time limits can seem arbitrary to kids, location is more tangible. Could the kitchen table be a “no screen zone”? What about bedrooms? Just as important, what are your family’s spaces where you can make screen time intentional and invited? Instead of focusing only on how much screen time kids should have, consider first asking where.

5. Get intentional about picking the right kinds of screens

Too often for parents, it can feel like there are only two options when it comes to technology habits and screen time: “anything goes” or “absolutely nothing.” But there’s a middle ground, and it’s especially true for those who start early.

Instead of banning screens, consider adopting truly kid-safe devices that are actually designed for kids – and maybe most of all, parents too.

Another idea: go retro! Instead of banning video games for example, try finding an old NES or N64 system and make some good old Super Mario or Mario Kart action the go-to screen activity. You might find a much better conversation waiting when you tell your curious kids “we like the cool classic games in our family” instead of just “that’s not allowed.”

6. Go beyond “yes” or “no” and ask “why”

One tip you’ll often see is to make screen time a reward for doing other positive things like chores or homework. While that can absolutely be a positive and helpful approach, it can also make screen time the reward that helps to elevate its value in a kid’s mind.

You know that moment when your kid comes running to ask “can I have the [insert device]?” or “can I play [insert game]?” One idea we love is to take the moment and ask a simple question: why? Instead of only encountering rules, a child is given a moment to consider what they want and why they want it.

In many cases, that moment may be a great opportunity to disconnect boredom from screen time. It also gives parents the opportunity to redirect the screen time focus from simple stimulation to something educational. The subtle message over time: screens are places we go to learn not tune out.

7. Enforce Screen Time Limits

Out of sight is often out of mind. For this reason, it is a great idea to store your family devices out of sight when they are not in use. You have to stick to your rules. Sure, you might make an exception when there is a change in schedules but for the most part, everyone complies better and feels better when they understand that the rules are not up for debate. When kids know their whining gets them nowhere, they won’t waste their energy.

Setting limits for children’s screen time is important to do. I hope these tips for how to reduce screen time for kids are helpful to you. All this means more quality family time creating memories together. And that is a good thing. In fact, it is what life is all about!

Spend time playing with your kids

Children love playing with their parents, especially younger kids. They won’t be so interested in screen time if you’re down on the floor playing with their toys with them and teaching them new things. This will take some creativity and a stretch of your imagination, as well as dedicated time, but you’ll be glad when they hit their teens and still want to include you in some of the things that they do.

In terms of setting the stage for a fun playdate with your child, Bert Anderson from “Me Before Mom” says the following:

“Not only does [20 minutes of child-led play with at least one parent] fill up your child’s need for attention, but it lets them feel like they’re in charge without it being too risky. You’ll want to do whatever your child wants to do. If this means running around the house pretending to be trains from Thomas the Tank Engine that’s what you do. They say to do this, 20 minutes a day because, especially if you’re working, even a half hour can feel overwhelming. The average attention span for most people is 20 minutes. You’ll be surprised by how willing your child is to play independently if you take the time to be with them one-on-one.”

Bert Anderson from “Me Before Mom” also says, “Don't be afraid of using things like play dough and Moonsand. I know the cleanup can be really annoying but the sensory action children get when they play with their hands to create things is mesmerizing. I live in Minnesota and this is my go-to when it’s below zero and the kids can’t play outside.”

Jenny Silverstone from “Moms Loves Best” shares similar thoughts on just getting right in there and keeping things moving with your kids, instead of letting them stare at a screen. “Encourage them to go for a walk with you or challenge them to a basketball game in your driveway or at your local park,” she writes on her blog. “If they’re active, they’ll be engaged in what they’re doing. They’ll be less likely to complain, and you’ll both benefit from the increased activity.”

Have you been looking for an easy way to limit screen time for kids? I hope you found these tips on limiting screen time helpful.

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