How to Help Children Develop Healthy Screen Time

kids screen time

The advancement of technology in the 21st century has changed the ways people communicate, study, and work. Children’s lives have changed because of these changes. They have been introduced to new technologies and now use online and digital services regularly.

At the global level, it’s estimated that one in three children is an internet user, and they start accessing it at a younger age. This early exposure to the internet has increased children’s “screen time.” Screen time refers to the total amount of time that children spend engaging in various activities like physical and sedentary activities in front of a screen, such as a computer, TV, tablet, or any other digital device, for educational and entertainment purposes.  Experts say that children’s screen time should be based on their stage of development: 

  1. no use for children under the age of two; 
  2. no more than one hour per day for children aged two to five; and
  3. no more than two hours per day for children aged five to seventeen. 

This will help them get the most out of screen time while minimizing its negative effects. Unfortunately, not all children use screens for the recommended period. In a study of 630 children aged 12 months, the most common way children were first exposed to digital media was through TV (33%), followed by smartphones (16.9%). Both were typically exposed at the age of 8 months. 

Parents continue to be concerned about how much time their children should spend in front of a screen and what they can do to assist their children in establishing healthy screen habits. Through the article, parents can understand what effects screen time has on children and what practices parents can use to assist the children in developing healthy screen habits.

Risks of excessive screen time

Many children and adolescents’ lives are now being influenced by new technological devices and modes of communication (smartphones, tablets, computers, etc.). For instance, computer use has increased rapidly worldwide in recent years. From 2001 to 2016, the estimated prevalence of computer use outside of school or work for more than 1 hour per day or more increased from 43% to 56% among children aged 5 to 11 years, and from 53% to 57% among adolescents aged 12 to 19 years. 

Children’s excessive screen time might lead to screen addiction. Screen addiction is described as excessive, uncontrollable, and compulsive screen media consumption. Internet addiction, digital game addiction, computer addiction, TV addiction, smartphone addiction, and so on are all examples of screen addiction.  Addiction to screens can induce maladaptive symptoms such as the inability to control cravings, withdrawal/avoidance, and decreased productivity. Excessive screen time can endanger children’s health and development in various ways such as:


Increased screen time in children and adolescents can be a risk factor for being overweight/obese. Spending more than 2 hours a day in front of a screen can increase the risk of being overweight/obese due to decreased physical activity, increased sedentary behavior, extended time of food intake, and eating more food. Obesity harms both physical and mental health, resulting in a lower quality of life. As a result, being overweight/obese has become a huge public health issue.

Mental health

Mental health, defined as a positive state of psychological well-being, is essential to having a good quality of life, particularly during childhood and adolescence. Screen time had more substantial associations with mental health. Childhood and preadolescent screen time (particularly related to sedentary activities) had a deleterious impact on preadolescent and adolescent mental health. 

Excessive screen time is associated with an increased risk of illness and all-cause mortality, as well as decreased social connection and social support, which can lead to mental health problems.

Behavior problems

Certain types of screen time and content were found to be strongly related to children’s problem behaviors

  • increased time spent watching TV or movies was associated with an increase in social issues, thought problems, rule-breaking behavior, and aggressive behavior; 
  • increased time spent playing video games was associated with higher levels of social withdrawal, social isolation, and internalizing problems; and 
  • increased time spent playing/watching mature-rated video games was associated with higher levels of somatic complaints, aggressive behavior, rule-breaking behavior, and decreased sleep duration. 

Excessive screen time has been shown in studies to be harmful to children’s health and development. However, the latest research indicates that modest levels of exposure may not be detrimental and may even be beneficial. Even though they are small, there are some positive links between children’s spending between 1 and 2 hours a day on digital media and their psychosocial functioning. The relationships are parabolic, with children with levels of digital involvement of 1 hour 3 minutes and 1 hour 19 minutes demonstrating higher levels of psychosocial functioning than nonusers. Children who used digital devices for less time had a favorable association between their digital engagement and psychosocial functioning, whereas children who used digital devices more frequently had the reverse trend.

Tips to maximize the benefits of screen time

There will be dozens of practices that parents can learn to use with children to help them build healthy screen habits. However, the three practices listed below can serve as a starting point for you and your children to learn how to build healthy screen habits together. Through the experience of implementing the suggested practices below, you can understand what kinds of practices truly work for your family and even personalize them based on your family’s needs.  

Practice a healthy technology diet

A healthy technology diet teaches children self-regulation skills such as avoiding toxic technology, limiting junk technology, and consuming healthy technology as part of a balanced lifestyle. 

It’s never a good idea to use technology late at night when it keeps you from sleeping. It’s also never a good idea to use technology to escape from anxiety or sadness. Discussing these topics with children can help them understand how their technology use affects their emotions and behaviors, allowing them to make better decisions for themselves. 

Websites, apps, and platforms that promote the release of endorphins, oxytocin, and serotonin in children’s brains are examples of healthy technology. This type of technology will inspire children to engage in the three Cs: (self-)care, connection, and creation. Children should be encouraged by their parents to use their screen time to care for themselves, communicate with others, or be creative. 

Parents can be flexible when it comes to healthy technology and enable their children to enjoy discovering the world online as long as they balance their time with other beneficial real-life activities. 

Parents should consider the following healthy technology factors when selecting technology for their children:

Technology that releases endorphins

Endorphins are a neurochemical connected with happiness and bliss, as well as the body’s natural painkillers. Technology that promotes self-care activities such as mindfulness, gratitude, and cardiovascular activity will enhance the endorphin system.

Technology that releases oxytocin

When we build meaningful relationships and interactions with others, oxytocin is released, making us feel warm and fuzzy on the inside. FaceTime with family and friends, positive social media, and community-building activities such as online activism or fundraising are all instances of technology that will increase oxytocin release. In general, the release of oxytocin by this type of technology is favorable.

Technology enabling serotonin release

Serotonin, the brain chemical that makes us creative, happy, and confident, is made when we use technology to create, invent, and get better at something we’re interested in. For example, using technology to create art, graphics, and websites, or learning to read or do Math, will help children release serotonin. Participating in online activities that promote creative thinking, independent problem-solving, and leadership can also aid in the production of serotonin.

Schedule technology time

Planning meaningful technology use around life activities rather than living around technology will help children prioritize real-world activities as they become older and understand the role technology should play in their everyday lives. When your children are using screens, be present and involved. 

Find out what technology interests, passions, and concerns the children have, and talk about any issues or problems that may occur. Begin by discussing your children’s favorite games, shows, apps, and characters, as well as the ideas and concerns they have while watching TV or playing a game. This is a chance to spend time with your child and learn from and teach them at the same time.  When creating a technology schedule, parents should keep the following rules in mind:

  • Make a list of twenty-four lines. These will be the 24 hours of the day.
  • Make time for sleep, hygiene, eating, housework, exercise, relationships, school, schoolwork (including technology), and non-tech play. You may also need time for other vital family activities such as church/mosque attendance, service work, and pet care.
  • The extra time can be used for technology, but it is not required.
  • Help children identify and question stereotyping, advertising messaging, and other harmful things. Inquire about their perspectives on such issues.

Establish a screen-free week

The screen-free week involves measuring how much time children spend in front of screens at home for a week and then planning alternative activities for children to spend that time with their friends and family rather than sitting in front of the screen. The goal of a screen-free week is to avoid using screens for entertainment to enjoy the world around us. 

Even if your child does not spend much time in front of a screen, you should urge them to participate in the screen-free week project because it will immerse them in an experience that they can share with their peers and enjoy with their family. 

If the children see a family member using a mobile device, the primary objective of the project will be altered. As a result, being a positive role model for the children is critical to the week’s accomplishment. Every good tour begins with planning and prepping.  Parents must take the following steps to ensure the success of a screen-free week:

  1. It is critical that everyone in the family commits to making a screen-free week a success for everyone. When adults are fully committed, children believe that everyone is participating and taking the event seriously.
  2. Decide what “screen-free” means for your family. Are email and text messaging available? Will you keep using Skype to speak with family members who live in another state or country? Will older kids utilize a computer to do their homework? There is no “right” or “wrong” way to achieve this, but make sure everyone is on the same page about their commitment.
  3. Make weekly plans as a group. Begin early in the planning process to ensure that everything is in place and ready to go for a screen-free week. Make certain that everyone (who can) has a specific responsibility and an equal vote on critical decisions.
  4. Create a weekly calendar of activities and events. One goal of a screen-free week is to encourage children to create their screen-free activities and games. However, it is crucial to organize some family activities early in the week, especially if this is your first time interacting as a family so that everyone can adapt to being screen-free.
  5. Make family meals a time for conversation and/or story sharing. Plan your meals ahead of time and, if feasible, involve the entire family in meal preparation and presentation.
  6. Invite others to join. Involve friends, relatives, and neighbors in your activities, even if it is only for a single day or evening, such as gathering with other families in a park to play organized games or simply hanging out.
  7. Discuss how you feel at the conclusion of the week, what you’ve all done, and which parts of the week you’d like to continue. The idea is to find out how everyone feels and discuss the advantages and problems, both to figure out how to better the screen-free week for next time and to reduce your reliance on screens throughout the year.

In conclusion

As technology has become an unavoidable part of the lives of parents and children, It is nearly hard not to engage with and use technology in daily life. While excessive screen time has been determined to be harmful to children’s health and development, it has also been discovered that moderate screen time will benefit children. As a result, parents need to guide their children’s ownership, use, and engagement with their screen devices.

For more screen time management tips, tricks, and hacks, visit the Parenting Science Labs. The learning resources produced by the lab is based on research by the Institute for Life Management Science and ranges from interactive quizzes to full courses and certifications. Visit the Parenting Science Labs today.

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