We’ve covered screen time on a few occasions because it’s one of the most important topics we face as parents. We talk about the benefits and drawbacks of screen time often, and ask ourselves whether we should enforce screen time limits for our kids. The truth is that there’s no simple one size fits all solution for every family. This article is just a starting point for a broader conversation in your household so you can arrive at solutions that work specifically for your family. These are our 10 recommendations for limiting screen time for kids in a healthy way.
- Get all the information you need
The first step is to gather all the information about screen time that you need to inform your thinking. We created a guide that covers most of the basic facts in this article. The most important information is the recommended screen time for each age group. Kids under 18 months should avoid screen time other than video calls. Kids between 18 and 24 months can enjoy co-viewing of curated content up to one hour per day. Kids between 2 and 5 years old can enjoy co-viewing and independent viewing of curated content up to one hour per day, but with more flexibility. Kids between 6 and 12 years old can enjoy reasonable limits that are up to you to decide. Kids 12 and over don’t need strict limits but with practical rules.
- Have a point of view
Once you have all the facts, it’s important to think critically about screen time on your own to form a personal point of view. The experts have their recommendations about screen time by age, and research is always being conducted about the advantages and disadvantages of screen time, but it’s up to us as parents to process this information and decide what to do with it. Write down your thoughts and try to arrive at a succinct set of ideas that will help govern screen time in your family.
- Start the conversation
Screen time will be a hot topic for a long time as your kids get older and technology changes, so we recommend starting the conversation whenever they’re ready. Opening the dialogue and showing a willingness to talk about important subjects will help form healthy attitudes about screen time and technology at large. We’ve also found that there’s a lot to learn from our kids as well. They have their own points of view that will be crucial in creating sustainable best practices in your home.
- Make a pros and cons list together
The logical followup to a conversation is to write down the findings. If you’re feeling up to it, make a list of pros and cons with your kids and be honest about their input. Having this list written formally in a document or even on a notepad will provide a material basis for the guidelines that you’ll set together.
- Set guidelines that are unique to your household
The next step is to actually create guidelines based on the conversation you’ve been having with your kids and the formal list of pros and cons. This makes your guidelines unique to your household. There may be plenty of overlap with other families and with the best practices recommended by experts, but ultimately, only your family can decide what’s best for you.
- Be realistic and forgiving
You may have noticed that we haven’t been using the word “rules” for limiting screen time. You can use that word if you want to, but using recommendations, guidelines, or best practices reminds us to be realistic and forgiving when things inevitably don’t go to plan sometimes. Good habits are hard to make and bad habits are even harder to break. Make sure you’re being realistic about your expectations and be quick to forgive mistakes that may occur, but follow up with a conversation about what happened whenever possible.
- Be accountable
The guidelines you set in your house work best when you try to follow them as well. Your children will follow your lead and mimic you when given the opportunity. Try to set a good example and adhere to the best practices you set for yourself as well.
- Warm up and cool down
Screen time should be a purposeful but regular event in a child’s day. Give your children an opportunity to think about the activity so it’s not just an automatic or idle event. They should do some kind of warm up activity before screen time and some kind of cool down activity afterwards whenever possible.
- Normalize screen time
Enjoying screen time should be an activity like any other that your kids plan for, participate in, and reflect on throughout the week like reading, homework, sports, or seeing friends. This means it’s not a reward for doing something good, but a normal part of life.
- Normalize screen-free time
This may seem to contradict the last point, but it’s actually in the same spirit. Screen time should be a normal activity in the day, and so should screen-free time. If possible, kids should know that it’s normal not to have devices on around them at all times. Screens are an important part of our lives, but they’re something we can choose to have on or off.