Do Your Kids Get Too Much Screen Time: How Much is OK?

How Much Screen Time is Too Much for kids

In the digital era, screens have become an omnipresent part of our lives. From smartphones and tablets to televisions and laptops, our daily interactions with screens are unending. While technology has brought about immense convenience and opened new avenues for learning and entertainment, its impact on children’s development and wellbeing has raised concerns among parents and educators.

This article delves into the concept of ‘too much screen time,’ exploring its implications, the recommended screen time for various age groups, and how parents can effectively manage their children’s screen time.

Defining Screen Time

‘Screen time’ refers to the duration spent on devices with screens such as smartphones, tablets, computers, televisions, and gaming consoles. According to a recent Screen Time study in 2022, adults in the UK spend approximately 13 hours a day looking at screens, cumulatively amounting to 198 days in a year! For children across all age groups, the daily screen time averages at over 7 hours, inclusive of entertainment, social, and academic purposes.

When it comes to different types of screen time, TV shows are often entertaining and engaging, but they typically involve passive consumption, limiting interaction and engagement. However, they can be a source of relaxation and can provide exposure to diverse content, including educational programs and documentaries.

On the other hand, educational apps on iPads offer interactive and engaging experiences, allowing children to learn while actively participating in activities. These apps provide a wide range of educational content, from language learning to math and science, tailored to different age groups.

Video games, while often seen as purely entertaining, can also offer educational benefits. They require problem-solving, critical thinking, and strategic planning. Video games can improve hand-eye coordination, spatial awareness, and decision-making skills, but excessive gaming can lead to issues such as addiction and decreased social interaction.

It’s important to emphasize that moderation and parental guidance are crucial for all types of screen time to ensure a balanced and healthy approach to media consumption.

The Screen Time Dilemma

Pros and Cons screen time for children

Determining the appropriate amount of screen time for children can be perplexing for parents. With inconsistent advice from different sources and the lack of conclusive research, it can be challenging to set a definitive threshold. The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) in the UK recommend a broad upper limit of two hours per day for all children. Yet, other experts argue that these guidelines may not be entirely based on robust evidence.

So what is a parent to do? Given the inconclusive evidence about screen time, it’s important for parents to maintain a balanced approach based on the needs of their child.

Encouraging a variety of activities both on and off screens can help ensure that children are engaging with technology in a healthy and constructive manner. Setting clear boundaries and limits around screen time, while also fostering open communication with children about their digital habits, can be beneficial. Additionally, prioritizing quality screen time over quantity and being mindful of the content children are exposed to can play a significant role in helping them develop a healthy relationship with technology. Lastly, leading by example and demonstrating healthy screen habits can positively influence children’s behaviour and attitudes towards technology.

Screen Time Guidelines by Age

While there are no official UK guidelines on screen time, the WHO has recommended the following limits for children under four years old:

Infants and 1-year-olds

Sedentary screen time, such as watching TV or playing computer games, is not recommended for children under 18 months. This is because infants are unable to avert their gaze from the flickering light emitted by the screen, which can disrupt sleep if watched too close to bedtime.

Children aged 2 to 4 years old

For children in this age group, sedentary screen time should ideally be under one hour per day; less is even better. Research suggests that screen time shared with parents provides the most benefits for children.

Children aged 5 to 7 years old

According to Internet Matters, 82% of children aged 5 to 7 years are online for almost one hour a day, with 7 out of 10 watching YouTube and 63% playing games online.

Children aged 8 – 12 years old

Ofcom estimates that the average consumption for this group is nearly 2 hours a day, which is also the NHS recommended upper limit for this group.


For teenagers, striking a healthy balance between the high usage teens crave and the limited usage parents want is crucial. Sixty-two per cent of parents of teens aged 14 to 17 years report that their children generally spend more than 4 hours a day on the screen.

The Impact of Excessive Screen Time

Teen Boy Working on Computer

Excessive screen time can have several adverse effects on children’s development:

  • Disrupted Sleep Patterns: The artificial lighting from screens can stimulate your child’s brain, reducing the production of melatonin, which aids sleep.
  • Poor Emotional Health: Spending too much time in front of screens can lead to feelings of anxiety and depression.
  • Reduced Physical Activity: Screen time often encourages a sedentary lifestyle, leading to an increased risk of obesity.
  • Impaired Social Skills: Excessive screen time can limit children’s opportunities to interact with their peers and develop crucial social skills.

The Benefits of Screen Time

Despite the potential risks, screen time is not entirely detrimental. If utilised correctly, it can offer several advantages:

  • Educational Content: High-quality educational programmes and apps can aid language development, numeracy and literacy skills, problem-solving abilities, and creativity.
  • Improved Cognitive Skills: Video games can enhance hand-eye coordination and cognitive skills like spatial navigation, reasoning, memory, and perception.
  • Enhanced Social Skills: Online platforms can facilitate social interactions, helping children strengthen their peer relations.

Managing Screen Time

Managing screen time for children can be a challenging but important aspect of parenting in the digital age.

Here are some strategies to help manage screen time effectively:

  1. Set Clear Limits: Establish clear rules regarding when and how long children can use screens. This can include limiting screen time to certain hours of the day or setting a daily time limit.
  2. Lead by Example: Children often learn by observing their parents. Limit your own screen time and demonstrate healthy tech habits to set a positive example.
  3. Use Parental Controls: Many devices and apps offer parental control features that allow parents to set limits on usage, restrict access to certain content, and monitor activity.
  4. Encourage Alternative Activities: Encourage children to engage in other activities such as outdoor play, reading, or hobbies to balance their screen time with other enriching experiences.
  5. Create Tech-Free Zones: Designate certain areas of the home, such as the dinner table or bedrooms, as tech-free zones to promote face-to-face interaction and relaxation without screens.
  6. Communicate Openly: Explain to children the reasons behind the screen time rules and engage in open discussions about responsible technology use.

Dealing with Children Pushing Back or Breaking the Rules

Boy Using Tablet

When children push back or break screen time rules, it can be frustrating, but there are several strategies that can help address this behavior:

  1. Consistent Enforcement: Consistency is key when it comes to enforcing screen time rules. Children are more likely to abide by the rules if they know that they will be consistently enforced.
  2. Explain Consequences: Clearly communicate the consequences of breaking the rules. For example, if a child exceeds their allotted screen time, they may lose screen time privileges for the following day.
  3. Involve Children in Rule-Setting: When children are involved in setting the screen time rules, they may be more likely to adhere to them. This can also help them understand the reasoning behind the rules.
  4. Offer Alternatives: When children push back against screen time limits, offer alternative activities that they enjoy. This can help shift their focus away from screens.
  5. Positive Reinforcement: Praise and reward children when they adhere to the rules. Positive reinforcement can be a powerful motivator for good behaviour.
  6. Open Dialogue: If children consistently push back against the rules, have an open and non-confrontational conversation to understand their perspective and concerns. This can help in finding a compromise that works for both the parents and the children.

By implementing these strategies and maintaining open communication, parents can effectively manage screen time and address any challenges that arise when children push back or break the rules.

In conclusion, while it’s essential to limit screen time, it’s equally crucial to understand that screens are a part of our modern lives. Rather than completely eliminating screen time, parents should focus on creating a balanced digital diet for their children, complemented with plenty of physical activity, social interaction, and offline learning experiences.