Digital Safety Alliance | Nicklaus Childrens Hospital

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Stay Balanced: How to Navigate Your Child’s Attachment to Screens
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Dr. Azaret

By: Dr. Marisa Azaret
February 19th, 2024

According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, children ages 8 to 12 in the United States spend 4 to 6 hours each day watching screens, including smartphones, tablets, gaming consoles, TVs, and computers. Teens spend up to 9 hours watching screens each day.
While screens can entertain and teach, too much screen time can lead to numerous behavioral problems, such as:
• Sleeping difficulties
• Obesity
• Attention and hearing issues
• Speech delays
• Poor social skills
• Problems of the nervous system
• Anxiety and depression
• Addiction
These issues can be exacerbated — and compounded by withdrawal symptoms like low appetite, headaches, changes in mood, and/or temper tantrums — when parents try to limit screen time.
While it can seem like a daunting task to keep your kids away from screens, there are several tips you can try to help you achieve a better balance.
Tips for Managing Screen Time
Despite the warnings about how many hours kids and teens are spending on screens, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says there aren’t any set time limits for child and teen screen usage. Instead, the AAP advises that limits on screen time depend on the type of media being used and the child using them.
With that said, the AAP does recommend that children should be getting at least an hour of physical activity each day, as well as 8 to 12 hours of sleep. They also recommend that kids don’t sleep with devices in their rooms, as well as avoid using devices for at least an hour before bedtime, as screen usage can disrupt sleep. 
In addition to those suggestions, there are other ways you can manage your children’s screen time.
Consider these tips:

  • Set an electronic curfew or set a time when your kids need to put away electronic devices. An hour before bedtime (as mentioned above) should be the minimum curfew.
  • In addition to establishing an electronic curfew, set individual time limits for screen activities like gaming and social media.
  • Establish a charging station away from your kids’ bedrooms.
  • Plan to do other things with your kids when screen time is over. Announce what’s coming next so they get used to transitioning to — and even getting excited about — other activities.
  • Prioritize the completion of other activities like homework, studying, or housework before your kids are allowed to get on devices. This can help with setting the proper priorities, especially if you start when your kids are very young.
  • Encourage your kids to spend time participating in other activities like sports, music, or clubs where they will be too busy — and less tempted — to use devices.
  • Establish consequences for breaking the rules and follow through if/when your kids cross the line. For smaller kids, the consequences might amount to losing access to a tablet for a day. For older kids, the penalty can be longer.
  • Use screen time management functions and apps like Apple’s Screen Time (for iOS), Google Family Link (for Android households with children under 13), or Qustodio (for Android households with kids over 13), which allow you to manage your child’s phone remotely, curb access to the phone at bedtime, and set limits on how much time your child can spend on specific apps, on categories of apps, or on the phone in general.

Ultimately, children learn more from your actions than your words. If you want your children to adopt healthy screen time habits, you need to model them yourself. By restricting your own time with devices, you can spend more time developing stronger bonds with your kids.
Creating a family media plan can help you and your children set media priorities that matter most to your family. You can revise your plan as often as you need to, such as at the beginning of each school year or during summer and holiday breaks.‚Äč You can also share your plan with other caregivers, such as babysitters or grandparents, so that your family’s media rules are followed consistently.
Click here to create a family media plan.
It’s crucial that we teach children to navigate the digital world safely and responsibly. Click here for our list of helpful resources for parents and kids related to digital safety, which includes a handy guide for helping you determine when and how to give cellphones to your kids.