How to monitor and live with kids’ screen time

Screens are everywhere, but that doesn’t mean we have to constantly engage. We have some advice on how to manage your family’s screen time and strike the right balance at home and beyond.

What do we define as screen time?

‘Screen time’ is considered to be any accumulation of time spent in front of a smartphone, tablet or computer (or any other similar device), watching television or playing on a games console. According to the latest Ofcom Children and Parents: Media use and attitudes report 2017 ,over 40% of parents of 12- to 15-year-olds find it difficult to successfully manage their child’s screen time.

It’s also highly likely that children of most age ranges spend more time looking at screens than their parents think they do, especially when you factor in video games. In fact, it is one of the most widely discussed aspects of online safety today.

What are the effects of too much screen time?

The effects of excessive screen time are not all negative for our children, but it’s worth monitoring your child’s screen time to make sure their relationship with their devices isn’t becoming a problem, especially during their school days. And unlimited screen time will pose a major blocker if you want them to read books at any point. ‘Not too little, not too much, just right’ is a good mantra to follow and you can adjust your restrictions accordingly, depending on your child’s behaviour and how their relationship with their screens develop; versus their need for physical activity to balance life out.

According to a recent study at The Vision Council, if a child is exposed to two or more hours of screen use per day, they report the following symptoms:

  • Eye strain
  • Headaches
  • Neck and shoulder discomfort
  • Reduced attention span
  • Irritability and disobedience
  • Generally poor behaviour.

Combinations of these symptoms can have negative impacts on your child’s academic performance and their ability to interact pleasantly with others. Being able to spot the signs of excessive use will help you to monitor their behaviour and manage them accordingly.

How much is recommended for a child’s screen time?

The effects of screen time will differ depending on your child’s age. You should also consider what they are actually doing on their screens before you implement any restrictions.

There are four broad areas to look at:

  • Passive: watching TV/YouTube, reading, listening to music
  • Interactive: surfing the internet and playing videogames
  • Communicative: engaging social media, video chatting or messaging
  • Creative: using digital equipment to be artistic.

It’s always a good idea to establish a certain set of rules with your child, especially before they start expecting a lot of time, heads down in front of their screens. They should be encouraged that mealtimes and before bed should both be screen-free times with a focus on quality time with the family and a bit of chin-wagging thrown in for their social development.

The best apps to control your child’s screen time

Given that devices and children are so indelibly linked, it makes sense for parents to use this relationship to improve their wellbeing, get them to be more active and to reduce the hours of screen time in their days.

The best apps to improve kids’ wellbeing

It might not seem like it, but everyone has their struggles, especially with media use these days. This is why being able to reach out to gain much-needed peace of mind is key for us all, children included.

For Me – Putting Childline in your pocket

A free app providing a totally private and totally confidential service for anyone under 19 to talk about their worries any time of the day via any means they choose. They can get advice, play games, ask questions or use message boards and sound off with other young people in a safe space.

Headspace for Kids

An opportunity for children to enjoy fun, engaging activities that teach them the basics of mindfulness and build the mental foundations to be happy and healthy for life. The app includes breathing, visualisation and focus-based meditation exercises that are tailored for different age groups. It is high quality and worth investing some time on; and despite the name, parents can also get involved.

The best apps to control screen time

After you’ve agreed a daily limit on screen time with your child, an app can help you stay on top of it.

The best apps to get kids active

Limiting screen time is easier if you have some alternative suggestions to fill time in inspirational ways rather than just handing out household rules. Here’s a couple of suggestions…

Managing screen time for babies and toddlers

Scientists believe that during the first two years of a human’s life, we programme our own specific “hardware” for the rest of our journey: the key to cognitive development and building who we are.

Naturally, given where we are in the digital age (and pandemic times), spending some time in front of a screen is inevitable. Experts recommend making screen time as productive as possible and just a part of your child’s daily routine as opposed to the nucleus of it. They also believe that children younger than 18 months should have no screen time at all.

And what about teenagers?

It’s believed that the average screen time per week for most teenagers is around 53 hours per week, or an incredible 2770 hours per year. However, when you take multi-screening into consideration, and the fact smartphones can be accessed from anywhere in the home, these figures are probably vastly underestimated.

What are the consequences of too much screen time for teenagers?

Teenagers over-using their screens are more susceptible to mental health problems, have a higher risk of obesity, are less inclined to be active physically and socially outside of their online circles and can suffer from sleeping disorders, attention problems and issues at school and beyond. So how do we support them?

While it is impossible for parents to consistently monitor the screen behaviour of their teenager, it’s very important to rationally – and, perhaps, collaboratively – set appropriate limits. Common sense issues like not bringing screens to the dinner table are a challenge for all parents.

Every parent needs a little help

We know this because a lot of us at Virgin Media are parents, too. It’s also why we include the Web Safe tool with our service to help protect your home and broadband network. You can block websites that may contain viruses and protect your loved ones from the internet’s darker corners, including malicious content, pornographic material, crime, drugs, suicide and self-harm.

With internet security in place, you can also limit the times your child can access the internet and the amount of screen time they are exposed to in everyday life.

You can find out more about internet safety and gain that extra peace of mind from Internet Matters.

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