It's clear that children are spending more and more time using tablets, smartphones and laptops - and a government adviser is now calling for parents to do their bit in helping set a good example for their kids.
Experts generally agree that we should limit how long our children spend using such devices, especially those connected to the internet. In this article, we’ll explore how much screen time is healthy for a child, and advise you on how to go about weaning them off any potential internet addiction.
Internet Matters, a not-for-profit group dedicated to keeping children safe online and supported by BT, offers advice on screen time and other matters parents might be concerned about including cyberbullying, social networking and gaming.
Screen time: The dangers of over-exposure
Devices like smartphones, tablets and TVs have many advantages for kids. They make them more informed about the world, help them stay in touch with their friends meaning they’re more active socially, and playing games can help them develop their motor skills. But they also have their drawbacks.
Children can come under pressure through social media to look or behave a certain way. They can also be exposed to advertising or unsuitable content. And far from encouraging them to socialise, too much time spent in a room staring at a screen can do just the opposite and harm their social development.
Other potential side effects include disrupted sleep, not enough exercise and the danger of neglecting schoolwork. According to one study, children who watched TV for more than two hours a day had higher blood pressure, which is linked to health problems like cardiovascular disease later in life.
The good news is that most families have the issue under control. According to Ofcom*, almost two-thirds of children aged 12-15 and their parents think the child has a good balance between screen time and doing other things. But for those who don’t, help is at hand.
Screen time: What’s recommended
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children shouldn’t be exposed to media before they’re 18 months old, and then only under strict supervision. They should only watch high-quality programming made for their age group.
Those aged two to five shouldn’t have more than an hour of screen use a day. Again, it should be age-appropriate and high quality. School-aged children and older should balance media use with other healthy behaviour, it advises.
Unfortunately, here in the UK, there are no official guidelines on how much screen time is healthy for children. But Common Sense Media, a non-profit organisation that aims to help kids thrive in a world of media and technology, advises setting a family schedule for media use. This can include weekly screen time limits, limits on the kinds of screens kids can use, and guidelines on the types of activity they can do or programmes they can watch.
Experts also advise parents share screen time with their kids. That way, you can see what they’re being exposed to and help them apply its teachings to the real world. It'll also make for more quality time together, and that's got to be a good thing.
How to limit your child’s screen time
Internet Matters has some tips to help you manage your children’s screen time.
- It’s important to set a good example with your own device use. Children will model their behaviour on you, so make sure you’re not glued to a screen every time they see you.
- Talk to them about the amount of time they spend online and what they spend that time doing.
- Agree on an appropriate amount of time they can use their device. These limits could well help adult members of the family too!
- Get the whole family to unplug together and create screen-free zones of the house, such as bedrooms or the dinner table. This will encourage kids to talk more and not be absorbed in a device all the time.
- Technology can help. BT’s Parental Controls let you set times when kids can’t get online, so they can focus on doing their homework. (Click here to activate BT Parental Controls.) There are other options, too. For example, the Forest app lets kids grow a beautiful forest in return for keeping their phone use within the set limit.
Be sensible and exercise some common sense and you’ll set your kids up for a far healthier relationship with technology that will stand them in good stead later in their lives.
*2016 report Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes,