Should I moderate my child’s screen time? If so, how can I place limits on my child’s screen time? These are the questions that linger in every parent’s mind as we go through our hectic days. We see our kids looking at screens, and we may not always have time to look over their shoulders. But we also have the unique role of seeing their hearts and the fruit of what’s going on in their hearts.
Why moderate screen time?
In kids and adults, online activities can affect the way a person’s brain works. If we are constantly getting pop-up notifications, for example, our brains adapt to this norm and it becomes difficult for us to focus on a singular task for very long even when we want to. We find ourselves interrupting our tasks with unnecessary distractions because that is how we are accustomed to operating. With this in mind, it would be wise for the entire family to set some boundaries on how electronics, email, social media, and games are used--for emotional and spiritual health. You can even hold one another accountable to the guidelines you set together.
A recent study shows that a reasonable amount of screen time can actually be healthy for teens. Researchers in the UK analyzed data that measured the screen time and well-being of just over 120,000 15-year-olds. They found that there was no direct link between screen time and well-being, but that those who used electronics more than a certain amount did experience decreased well-being. To be specific, on average, the teens' well-being peaked at “about 1 hours and 40 minutes of video-game play, about 1 hour 57 minutes of smartphone use, about 3 hours and 41 minutes of watching videos, and about 4 hours and 17 minutes of using computers.” Any more than that, and the numbers trended toward unhappiness.
There are no magic (or even scientific) formulas to use, for your child is unique and wonderfully made by God. Beyond statistics, the bottom line is that as parents, you know your child’s heart and habits. You are in a position to observe whether screen time is making your child happy or sad, fulfilled or frustrated. There are so many factors to consider and ultimately, you want to encourage activities that enrich their life,and steer them away from those things that spawn dissatisfaction.
Avoiding negative screen time
If you identify a form of “screen time” that seems to be detrimental for your child (e.g., social media that leads to feeling left out, or a video game causing frustration), talk to them about it; help your child form their own conclusions about how to avoid it. Try to frame it in a positive, self-care context. This will be good for them now and in the future. If your child doesn’t choose to avoid it, you have the authority to place limits on their interaction with it. Or you can offer substitute forms of social interaction,entertainment, or whatever they are getting out of it.
Moderating positive screen time.
For any form of “screen time” that seems to make your child happy (e.g., chatting with good friends or building in Minecraft), it is still wise to encourage a time limit. Some clear-cut ways to set limits on screen time include the following:
- Allow “unlimited” screen time, but only after homework and chores are done.
- Allow screen time only on weekends.
- Allow only 30 minutes of screen time after school, as a little break before homework.
- Allow screen time only when you are present to supervise or be involved.
- Allow as much screen time as your child “earns” by doing specific chores with specific values set for each chore.
During any allotted screen time, you will still want to be sure that your child spends it on something that is edifying for them!
If your child has access to the internet, consider using an app that can help you supervise what your child is doing online. Covenant Eyes and Disney Circle are two examples of products that you can use to filter and/or review what your child sees online. One mother told me recently that her daughter comes to her with questions instead of Googling things because she knows her Mom sees every site she visits. This has led to good conversations and more engagement that they may not have had. Now that’s a win-win!