Screen Time and When to Unplug: A Guide for Parents

Guest Post By Noah Rue


Children ages 8-12 in the U.S. spend, on average, anywhere from 4-6 hours a day in front of a screen. For teenagers, it’s even more time. While some screen time might be necessary, especially if your child is learning remotely, it’s important to monitor their usage as much as possible.


Everything from tablets to computers can help your child learn new things and explore a world at their fingertips like never before. But, there are also some potential drawbacks to too much screen time.


So, what are some of those risks? How much screen time is too much? How can you limit that screen time with your children and direct them toward other meaningful activities? If you find yourself conflicted about these questions, you’re not alone. Let’s cover some of the benefits and drawbacks of screen time so that you can make the best choices for your child.

screen time, too much screen time, how to limit screen time, children, preschool, prek, ece, daycare, child care, child care provider, limiting screen time in young children
Image Source: Unsplash

What Are the Benefits of Screen Time?

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way children all over the world are learning. Many schools have gone completely remote for the time being, which means children have to learn at home using computers and tablets. In that regard, screen time has essentially become a lifesaver for the education system in this country. Without the technology we have today, who knows what would have happened if thousands of schools across the country had to close?


The pandemic has taken a toll on everyone, including children. In fact, the CDC has suggested that the emotional and mental wellbeing of children is at risk because of the pandemic due to things like:

  • Changes in their routines

  • Loss of friendships/connections

  • Breaks in learning

  • Loss of security and safety

Limited engagement with peers and teachers can be big problems for the overall wellbeing and mental health of children. Without connecting on school platforms or via applications like Zoom, your child may have lost those connections completely.


There are other benefits of screen time, even when your child isn’t using it for school. Certain games and apps can improve motor skills and concentration, and some digital content can be extremely high-quality, so your child is learning without even realizing it.


What Are the Drawbacks To Too Much Screen Time?

While some screen time might be necessary right now, it’s essential to understand some of the risks when it comes to letting your kids sit in front of a computer or tablet all day. Some studies have shown that too much screen time may harm children’s development. Data from an Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development study found that children who spent at least 7 hours in front of a screen each day had significant differences in brain MRI scans, and children who spent at least two hours in front of screens had lower test scores in thinking and language.


Additional issues that may come up as a result of too much screen time include:

  • Behavioral issues

  • Sleep problems

  • Desensitization

  • Unhealthy habits

Digital devices can also disrupt your child’s life, as well as your family’s routine. When children sit in front of a screen all day, they may be less likely to feel motivated about doing anything productive, including schoolwork. Caregivers can help to combat that by giving them a daily routine and setting a school schedule.


If you’re starting to notice any changes in your child and you’re worried it might be due to too much time on a device, there are (thankfully) some things you can do about it.


What Can You Do to Limit Screen Time?

As a parent, finding ways to encourage that motivation and getting them to do other things may not always seem like an easy job. But, trying things like daily routines, frequent breaks from screens, and engaging them in activities that encourage exercise and play can make a big difference.


It’s also vital for your children to have time each day that is more unstructured too. Remember, they’re still kids. If they are bored at home because of the pandemic, something unexpected and unstructured can foster excitement and be an instant boredom buster. So, don’t be afraid to switch things up now and then to engage your child in something away from technology.


Another good rule of thumb to limit screen time is to set clear expectations and boundaries. Maybe that includes not allowing your child to have their tablet or phone before bed. Perhaps they’re only allowed to use such devices during certain hours. Whatever rules you establish, make sure to follow through. We’re all going through a stressful time because of this pandemic, and it’s tempting to “give in” if your child wants to spend their days in front of a computer.


But, making sure they take time away and engage in other things is incredibly important for their health, so put rules in place that fit your family’s needs.


Noah Rue is a journalist and content writer, fascinated with the intersection between global health, personal wellness, and modern technology. When he isn't searching out his next great writing opportunity, Noah likes to shut off his devices and head to the mountains to disconnect.