How much screen time is too much for kids?

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By Mike Atherton 16 Jul 2018
limit screen time

Most kids can happily stare at a screen for hours, but too much screen time can be a real worry.

Whether it's console gaming, tablets or TV, there isn't a lot of clear advice out there - so we've looked through the research and here's what the experts are saying.

What’s the right amount?

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A few studies have been done by different organisations to try to answer the question once and for all. But the truth is, there isn't a 'one size fits all' approach.

There are no official guidelines in the U.K. but the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has done a lot of research into this to give parents the best and most up-to-date information. Here's what they say:

  • For children under 18 months - avoid all screen time except for video calls. If you want to introduce your child to digital media, they recommend waiting until the child reaches 18 months. But make sure you watch with them to help them understand what they're seeing.
  • For children aged 2 to 5 - screen time should be limited to one hour per day. It's still a good idea to watch with them, to talk to them about what they're watching.
  • For children aged 6 and older - the AAP doesn't recommend any specific time limits. Instead, they say you should put constant limits on their screen use and make sure it's balanced with plenty of physical activity. The important thing is that their screen time doesn't get in the way of other activities or affect their sleep pattern.

Is it different if they’re learning?

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Kids, especially older ones, might sometimes claim that what they’re doing is ‘educational’ - it could be worth taking this with a pinch of salt. If it gets them another hour of screen time, kids can make most things sound educational.

But there is a difference between 'negative' and 'positive' screen time. Positive screen time can certainly help kids with their learning, and there are plenty of free educational apps available for tablets and smartphones. Most schools also use tablets in class these days, so it's practically impossible to avoid screen time altogether.

The trick is to make sure their screen time is balanced with other activities, and we'd always recommend that you sit with them to talk about what they're doing. It's important that kids are able to exercise their social skills too.

What happens when kids get too much screen time?

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So what happens if I let them play on the Xbox for a few hours? What’s wrong with a film in the evening, even if they’ve already been on the tablet that day? The answer is, once in a while, there’s no harm done. Problems can start when 'once in a while' turns into all the time.

We're probably all aware that negative screen time, like gaming, can get addictive. Some studies have suggested that kids who get too much screen time are less likely to develop good social skills, and it could even affect their mental health. Similar studies have also linked screen time to the rise in childhood obesity.

But a new study by The University of Oxford, looking at the effects of screen time on kids suggests that screen time alone shouldn't be blamed for physical and psychological issues. Instead, the research shows that it's all down to how parents manage their kids' screen time.

Screen time should certainly be limited, but one of the key findings is that it's more important that parents and children are "actively engaged in exploring the digital world together". 

How can it be limited?

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Knowing the reasons for limiting screen time, and finding a way to actually make it happen are very different things. You’re not on your own though, here are a few guides to help you limit screen time - whatever kit you have.

There are loads of suggestions online to get your children to stick to their screen time - without having to fiddle with settings. As new bits of kit come out, there will always be new challenges, so it’s important to know just what your kids are spending their time on, and how it works.

If you need help understanding your kids' tech, or trying to make it safer for them, you can always get in touch with an expert from Team Knowhow here.

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