How to Limit Screen Time

How Much Screen Time is Too Much?

Limiting screen time for kids is one of the challenges that parents all over the world face today. Studies have shown that excessive media use can lead to attention problems, school difficulties, sleep and eating disorders and obesity.

Recommended screen time

The following computer time limits are only suggestions. You may want to increase or decrease the time limits that you feel are suitable for your children. Please note that the quality of the screen time is much more important than the time spent in front of a screen.

Screen time recommendations by age

Infants Up to age 2

No TV or computer time except for video-chatting

If you do decide to expose them to TV make sure that it is high quality

No TV or computer time except for video-chatting

If you do decide to expose them to TV make sure that it is high quality

Toddlers Up to 45 minutes (although it is recommended to keep this to a minimum)Up to 45 minutes (although it is recommended to keep this to a minimum)
Parental involvement required and make sure that the programs are high-qualityParental involvement required and make sure that the programs are high-quality
Preschool Up to 60 minutesUp to 90 minutes
Parental involvement required and make sure that the programs are high-qualityParental involvement required and make sure that the programs are high-quality
Elementary School Up to 90 minutesUp to 120 minutes
Parental involvement recommendedParental involvement recommended
Extra time might need to be allotted for school workExtra time might need to be allotted for school work
Junior High/Middle School Up to 90 minutesUp to 2 hours
Extra time might need to be allotted for school workExtra time might need to be allotted for school work
High School Up to 2 hoursUp to 3 hours
Extra time might need to be allotted for school workExtra time might need to be allotted for school work

Please note that these are only guidelines. The quality of the screen time is much more important than the duration. There are many good educational programs and apps that can help your child learn skills and even languages. On the other hand, there are many violent games that are not appropriate for kids at all. It isn’t enough to limit screen time for children. You should preview programs, games and apps before your child is allowed to watch or play. If you have not had a chance to preview the program, game or app then co-play or stay close by to check if it is appropriate.  With older children, these guidelines might not be so easy to enforce. They reach a stage where they don’t ask you what they can watch and have their own devices. They also spend time at friends and you never really know what they are doing there. I have installed an app on my kids’ phone that alerts me each time they install a new app. Although it is not free, the free version will alert you each time a new app is installed. You can then look at the app and ensure that it is appropriate.

How to Limit Screen Time

Limiting your child’s computer use is not an easy task. You are often busy with other activities such as making dinner, doing homework with a sibling or other household chores. You can’t always keep track of the time each child has spent on the computer. Your child, on the other hand, is often engrossed in a game and honestly does not know how much time has passed. Sometimes he might be aware that he has spent more time on the computer than he is supposed to but other times he doesn’t even realize how much time he has wasted on the computer. Tracking computer time is not easy for both children and parents. In this day and age, when technology is so advanced, I don’t think that we should even worry about tracking computer time. We have enough things to worry about. Let’s get technology to do it for us.

We have an important task to set the limit for each child but enforcing it is not something that we need to bother with. Some will argue that your child should be responsible enough to track computer time herself. I don’t agree. I often look at my kids when they are in the middle of a computer game. They are in their own world. They are not keeping time and if they are just about to break their personal record when the time is up they will not turn the computer off. They’ll ask for 5 more minutes which turns into 10 or 20 minutes and could even turn into an hour. I would rather waste my energy doing something more productive for them than track each child’s computer time.

5 Ways to Limit your Child’s Screen Time

How to Limit Screen Time1)     Use a computer usage tracking chart (free printable). This can track the time that each child spends on the computer. It can also divide the time up equally if your children share a computer. It will save arguments over whose turn it is.

2)     Set a timer with an alarm when your child starts using the computer.

3)     Burn a CD with some of your child’s favorite songs so that the length of the CD is as long as the computer time limit.

4)     Allow them to earn extra computer time for good behavior, doing additional chores, getting along well with siblings, etc.

5)     Use a screen time app or software to track the time for you. See list of parental control software below.

Free Parental Control Software to limit screen time

Limit Computer Time

1)     Windows and Apple offer several options to limit computer time.

parental controlDid you know that Windows offers Parental Controls to help manage how your children use the computer. You can set limits on the time that your child spends on the computer, the games he or she can play, and the programs they can run.

How is it done? It depends on the version of Windows that you run. Click on your version to find detailed instructions and a video on how to set the parental controls.

Apps to Limit Screen Time on Smart Phones and Tablets

2) Screen Time Labs is an app to limit the time that kid’s spend on their smart phones and tablets. You get a free two-week trial during which you get all of the features mentioned below. You do not need a credit card to try the premium version and it will give you a good idea about how much time your kids are spending on their smart phone and which apps they are using. It has some amazing features mentioned in detail below. You can try it for free and after two weeks your child’s time limits are disabled but the free version still provides remote device monitoring and lets you know each time your child installs an app or game. It will also provide you with your child’s web and search history.

3)     Qustodio is a free application which not only limits computer time but helps protect kids online. It can be used on computers, tablets and mobile phones. It enables you to track the searches they conduct, the social sites that they visit and the people that they hang out with online. It offers a web-based dashboard which presents the info in a user-friendly manner. It is a great program but it does have limitations.

Download Qustodio

Premium Screen Time Parental Control Software

Screen Time Labs

Screen Time Labs enables you to set a daily time limit for each child. You can have a time limit during the week and a longer one on weekends. You can limit certain apps and exclude specific apps from the daily time limit. For example, even when their phone is locked once they reach the limit I still want them to be able to access their phone to call me. I also excluded the camera and contact list since I want them to be able to take photos and access phone numbers.

You get a daily email summary for each child. The summary includes the total time spent on the smartphone and/or tablet. It lists exactly which apps or programs were used and how much time was spent on each one of them.

You can also limit screen time to only begin once homework or chores are complete. You can reward them with screen time for doing certain activities such as chores, doing something nice for a sibling, tidying their room or any other activity. They can even send you a photo for you to check if you are doing it remotely. For example, I limit their screen time until they take their school bags to their rooms since they tend to leave them lying around the house. They can send me a photo of their tidy room with their school bag there and I can enable their screen time from my smartphone at work even though I am not at home with them.

I really like the pause button which is like a “screen time remote control”. It enables you to lock screen time in certain situations for a limited time from your phone or any computer. Have you ever tried to get your kids to the dinner table while they are playing a game? This app totally solves the problem. If I call them and they carry on playing I just lock their phone. I recently used it on my teenager who was being disrespectful. He was trying to pretend that he couldn’t hear me and put earphones on and started listening to music on his phone. I accessed the app from my phone and used the pause button to lock his phone and stop the music.

You can also set bedtime and school time restrictions. You can approve apps before they are installed or just receive notification depending on how involved you want to be. You can give other people access to the control (such as two parents who each have control from their own smart phone). Your child cannot uninstall the app. My child did try, unsuccessfully to uninstall it, and I even received notification that he had tried.

Screen Time Recommendations

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) published the following recommendations:

  • Place consistent limits on daily screen time as well as types of media used.
  • Limit media that is not appropriate for children.
  • Co-view media content that your child is exposed to or co-play with your child.
  • When setting time limits for children take other activities into account such as sleep, play time, sport, friends, etc.
  • Avoid screen time while doing homework. Some children tend to do homework in front of the TV.
  • Ensure that children don’t sleep with devices in their bedrooms. They should charge all devices in another room.
  • Create media-free zones such as the dinner table.
  • Serve as positive role models on healthy media use. If you are constantly in front of the TV then you cannot expect your child to want to limit screen time.

What is Screen Time?

Technically, screen time is any time spent in front of a screen such as a computer, TV, tablet or smartphone. On the other hand, there are many educational games and apps that are technically considered “screens” and therefore time spent in front of them is considered “screen time” but should not necessarily be limited or treated like other screen time.

For example, my 12-year-old son uses an app to learn Spanish. We went to Spain in the summer and I was really impressed with his Spanish which was solely from the app. When I first decided to limit his screen time with an app he said that it wasn’t fair to limit time spent learning Spanish and I tend to agree with him. The problem is that I could not know how much time he spent learning Spanish and how much time he spent on other apps and games. I then came across an app that provided a solution. It allowed me to limit screen time but exclude certain apps from this time limit. I excluded all educational apps and my problem was solved.

Disclosure: If you click on the link and purchase Screen Time Labs then I will receive a small commission but it will not cost you anything. I purchased this app for my children and still pay for it because I believe that it is a good app. I did not receive it for free and my opinions are my own.

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