Episode 38: Helping Our Children Manage Screen Time

Episode 38: Helping Our Children Manage Screen Time

Episode 38: Helping Our Children Manage Screen Time 1920 1080 Catholic Parents Online

Episode 38: Helping Our Children Manage Screen Time

One of the biggest challenges we face as parents today is helping our children manage screen time.

In a local survey, more than 60% of parents were not aware of the actual recommendations for physical activity and screen time.

What are the recommendations from professional bodies when it comes to screen time for children? How can we help our children manage screen time?

We address these questions and propose guidelines for parents to follow in our efforts to help our children manage screen time in a healthy way.


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One of the biggest challenges we face as parents today is helping our children manage screen time.

In a local survey, more than 60% of parents were not aware of the actual recommendations for physical activity and screen time.

95% of preschoolers had an average of two hours per day on weekends, well exceeding the recommendation for this age group.

Issues with Excessive Screen Time

Studies have shown that higher levels of screen time in preschool children were significantly associated with poorer performance on developmental screening tests.

Primary school children who exceeded screen time recommendations scored lower on cognitive assessments.
In addition, a combination of excessive screen time and too little sleep has also been associated with heightened impulsivity in this age group.

As for adolescents, higher levels of screen time have been associated with depressive symptoms, obesity and poorer quality of life.

It also exposes children and young people to more psychological and emotional harm, such as cyberbullying, watching violence or pornography, or the need to monitor their online status with their peers (such as the number of ‘likes’ they are getting for their posts), which affects their self-esteem significantly.

Professional Recommendations

For infants and toddlers below 18 months of age, they are not supposed to have any recreational screen viewing time, including background screen time. This does not include online chatting with trusted adults like Grandma and Grandpa.

For children between 18 months to 3 years of age, they may watch up to a maximum of one hour of screen time. Personally, I prefer to divide this into three separate segments throughout the day, so that they are not at it for too long each time. They can also be more aware that there is such a thing as a limit to screen time, and they will accept it better when screen time ends.

Even for children up to 7 years of age, recreational screen viewing time should be limited to a maximum of one hour a day.

By the time they are 7 years of age, we hope they would be better equipped to manage screen time from their earlier years of formation. The principle then would be to make sure that other essential activities are attended to first, before they move on to recreational screen time, and even then within limits agreed upon previously with us.

Place consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure screen time does not compromise adequate sleep time, exercise, family time, schoolwork, and other behaviours essential to our physical, psychological and spiritual well-being.

Work closely with your spouse on this. It is a joint project. This endeavour is tough enough as it is. It can be made a lot worse if spouses contradict each other in front of their children.

Practical Tips

How can we help our children manage screen time?

First, we know for a fact that good habits are best cultivated from as early as possible. It is the same with screen time. We must cultivate good habits from the time our children are young, and do our best to help them adhere to the recommended guidelines for their respective age groups. Be consistent in their implementation.

Second, provide children with good alternatives outside of screen time, such as games and physical activities; family time with parents and siblings, both indoor and outdoor; reading good books, and so on.

Remember, we cannot deny one thing such as screen time without providing good, viable and enjoyable alternatives.

Third, as far as possible, watch what they are watching, with them. In addition to helping us supervise their screen time, we can ask questions about the programmes they are watching in order to help in their development of analytical skills, critical thinking, and character formation.

In our home, we prefer to cast or project what is on our phone to the bigger TV screen, so that the children can enjoy screen time together, and with us.

This way, screen time is seen not as an activity that one does alone by withdrawing from others, but a communal activity whereby they can watch these cartoons or animal documentaries together. The kids get to laugh with each other and they talk with each other about the programmes during such screen time. They also take turns to switch the TV on and off when it is time to do so. It is our hope that this will help them develop the virtue of temperance and reinforce the concept that there is such a thing as a limit to screen time. And it helps them get used to the idea of sharing screen time with us, and having conversations around this, even as they grow older.

Fourth, if our children are older and already steeped in unhealthy screen time habits, then we will have to spend time discussing it with them. But first, we need to bond more closely with them before we can engage them in such discussions. This is covered in episodes 7 to 17 of this series. Only then can we broach the subject with them, gently.

We can ask them what their hopes are for themselves, both in the short term and in the long term, how they see themselves achieving their goals, and how unhealthy screen time habits can jeopardise those goals they have set for themselves. This has to be done in a calibrated and tactful manner. We wouldn’t want this to cause further strain on our relationship with them if we can help it.

If we find this too challenging to handle by ourselves, we may wish to engage the help of other good friends and relatives whom our kids respect, possibly even professional counsellors. There should be no stigma attached to this. My wife and I have spoken with counsellors ourselves to help us with the challenges we faced as parents.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we must be good role models for them. A recent study from Bournemouth University showed that the more addicted the parents to screen time, the stronger their children’s compulsions were to the same.

Not only should our kids be accountable to us when it comes to screen time: we too should make ourselves accountable to our kids and to each other in this area.

Before we manage our children’s screen time, we have to reflect on our own first. Do we put away our phones during meals and family times? Do we use our devices when spending time with our spouse and children? Do we make sure we stop using our mobile phones after set periods of time in order to give our attention to other life-enriching activities like prayer, family time, reading some good books, and so on? Or are we constantly on our devices, even and especially when we are with our children and family?

Let us ask ourselves this question. How have I been a role model for my children when managing screen time? Can I do better?