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How Much Screen Time Should We Allow Our Kids?

publication date: Jan 4, 2019
author/source: Anne Coates

Boy on computerThe "Screen Time Guidance" published today by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), instead suggests parents approach screen time based on the child’s developmental age, the individual need and value the family place on positive activities such as socialising, exercise and sleep – when screen time displaces these activities, the evidence suggests there is a risk to child wellbeing.

Most people immediately think of time spent on devices when in fact screen time also includes watching television. I expect we all know of homes where the TV is constantly on and this was certainly more prevalent for previous generations who didn't have access to wifi and the internet. Now it is important for children to be able to navigate websites, research their homework and enjoy what technology has to offer but that should be part of their lives in a balanced way and screen should not be used as a "babysitter".

In the guidance, the RCPCH has posed a series of questions which aim to help families make decisions about their screen time use:

  • Is your family’s screen time under control?
  • Does screen use interfere with what your family wants to do?
  • Does screen use interfere with sleep?
  • Are you able to control snacking during screen time use?

The RCPCH advice is to discourage use of devices one hour before bedtime (this applies to adults too) and I would add that children and teenagers should not have smart phones and tablets in their bedrooms. It is far too easy to stay hooked to social media or games which will disrupt good sleep patterns and can make children anxious and upset.

Children benefit from a regular bedtime routine and reading aloud has proved beneficial in so many ways. Even older children like being read to and devoting the time before sleep to them is a wonderful way to connect and make your child feel cherished.

We need to ensure our offspring get enough exercise especially outdoors and that they socialise with family and friends. So turning off all devices and the TV during meals is important as is making time to play board or card games together and having fun. 

Most of all remember that our children learn from our example so we should be disciplined in our own use of smart phones and make sure we are not checking emails when we should be listening to what is going on in out children's lives.

You can download a PDF of "Screen Time Guidance".