Tips for setting screen time limits as a parent (2024)

Screen time and children: How to guide your child

By Mayo Clinic Staff

With screens virtually everywhere, monitoring a child's screen time can be challenging. To complicate matters, some screen time can be educational and support children's social development. So how do you manage your child's screen time? Here's a primer on guiding your child's use of screens and media.

The problems with screens

Too much screen time and regular exposure to poor-quality programming has been linked to:

  • Obesity
  • Inadequate sleep schedules and insufficient sleep
  • Behavior problems
  • Delays in language and social skills development
  • Violence
  • Attention problems
  • Less time learning

Keep in mind that unstructured playtime is more valuable for a young child's developing brain than is electronic media. Children younger than age 2 are more likely to learn when they interact and play with parents, siblings, and other children and adults.

By age 2, children may benefit from some types of screen time, such as programming with music, movement and stories. By watching together, you can help your child understand what he or he is seeing and apply it in real life. However, passive screen time shouldn't replace reading, playing or problem-solving.

Developing screen time rules

The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages media use, except for video chatting, by children younger than 18 months. If you introduce digital media to children ages 18 to 24 months, make sure it's high quality and avoid solo media use. For children ages 2 to 5, limit screen time to one hour a day of high-quality programming.

As your child grows, a one-size-fits-all approach doesn't work as well. You'll need to decide how much media to let your child use each day and what's appropriate.

Consider applying the same rules to your child's real and virtual environments. In both, play with your child, teach kindness, be involved, and know your child's friends and what your child does with them. Also, keep in mind that the quality of the media your child is exposed to is more important than the type of technology or amount of time spent.

To ensure quality screen time:

  • Preview programs, games and apps before allowing your child to view or play with them. Organizations such as Common Sense Media has programming ratings and reviews to help you determine what's appropriate for your child's age. Better yet, watch, play or use them with your child.
  • Seek out interactive options that engage your child, rather than those that just require pushing and swiping or staring at the screen.
  • Use parental controls to block or filter internet content.
  • Make sure your child is close by during screen time so that you can supervise his or her activities.
  • Ask your child regularly what programs, games and apps he or she has played with during the day.
  • When watching programming with your child, discuss what you're watching and educate your child about advertising and commercials.

Also, avoid fast-paced programming, which young children have a hard time understanding, violent content and apps with a lot of distracting content. Eliminate advertising on apps, since young children have trouble telling the difference between ads and factual information.

Setting limits for older children

Establish clear rules and set reasonable limits for your child's use of digital media. Consider these tips:

  • Encourage unplugged, unstructured playtime.
  • Create tech-free zones or times, such as during mealtime or one night a week.
  • Discourage use of media entertainment during homework.
  • Set and enforce daily or weekly screen time limits and curfews, such as no exposure to devices or screens one hour before bedtime.
  • Consider using apps that control the length of time a child can use a device.
  • Keep screens out of your child's bedroom and consider requiring your children to charge their devices outside of their bedrooms at night.
  • Eliminate background TV.

Encouraging digital literacy

At some point your child will be exposed to content that you haven't approved and devices without internet filters. Talk to your child about the situations that could occur and the behavior you expect.

Encourage your child to think critically about what they see on their screens. Ask your child to consider whether everything on the internet is accurate. Does your child know how to tell if a website is trustworthy? Help your child understand that media are made by humans with points of view. Explain that many types of technology collect data to send users ads or to make money.

Teaching appropriate behavior

Online relationships and social media have become a major part of adolescent life. Experts suggest that it's OK for your teen to be a part of these worlds — as long as your child understands appropriate behavior. Explain what's allowed and what's not, such as sexting, cyberbullying and sharing personal information online. Teach your child not to send or share anything online that he or she would not want the entire world to see for eternity.

No matter how smart or mature you feel your child is, monitor his or her online and social media behavior. Your child is bound to make mistakes using media. Talk to your child and help him or her learn from them.

Also, set a good example. Consider that your child is watching you for cues on when it's OK to use screens and how to use them.

You'll likely need to continue to guide, manage and monitor your child's use of screens and media as he or she grows. But by developing household rules — and revisiting them as your child grows — you can help ensure a safe experience.

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Feb. 10, 2022

  1. Beyond screen time: A parent's guide to media use. American Academy of Pediatrics. Accessed Dec. 9, 2021.
  2. Ratings: Making healthy media choices. American Academy of Pediatrics. Accessed Dec. 9, 2021.
  3. Screen time and children. American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. Accessed Dec. 9, 2021.
  4. Stigilic N, et al. Effects of screentime on the health and well-being of children and adolescents: A systematic review of reviews. BMJ Open. 2019; doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2018-023191.
  5. Altmann T, et al., eds. Media. In: Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5. 7th ed. Bantam; 2019.
  6. Flais SV, ed. Media. In: Caring for Your School-Age Child: Ages 5 to 12. 3rd ed. Bantam; 2018.
  7. Madigan S, et al. Associations between screen use and child language skills: A systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA Pediatrics. 2020; doi: 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2020.0327.

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Tips for setting screen time limits as a parent (2024)


What are the tips for parents to limit screen time? ›

Tips for reducing screen time
  • Be accountable. Set expectations with your kids, and create goals to be intentional about reducing screen time. ...
  • Be realistic. ...
  • Be engaged. ...
  • Put hand-held devices away. ...
  • Create phone-free zones in the home. ...
  • Go outside.
Apr 17, 2023

Do you agree that parents should limit their children's screen time? ›

Too much screen time can lead to poor reading skills and a lack of social skills too. It also contributes to: Behavior issues: Research shows that young kids who have daily screen time of two hours or more are at a higher risk of having attention issues and emotional problems.

What is a realistic screen time limit? ›

Parents can help their children by reminding them to take breaks. The child should look away from the screen about every 20 minutes, focus on an object at least 20 feet away for about 20 seconds. Kids should also get up and walk away from the screen for 10 minutes each hour.

How much screen time is ok for a 12 year old? ›

Yousuf said pediatricians generally recommend the following guidelines: Under 2 years old: Zero screen time, except for video chatting with family or friends. 2-5 years old: No more than one hour per day co-viewing with a parent or sibling. 5-17 years old: Generally no more than two hours per day, except for homework.

Why shouldn t parents limit screen time? ›

When you set limits and restrict the use of technology you will strengthen your child's desire for it. When it's restricted your child is more likely to binge, hyper-focus, get anxious or sneak time when you're not watching.

What are the symptoms of too much screen time? ›

  • Phones, tablets, even watches— screens are everywhere you turn. ...
  • Trouble Sleeping. Excessive screen time can disrupt your sleep. ...
  • Mood Changes. Too much scrolling and texting may affect your emotional health. ...
  • Altering Your Brain. Too much screen time may cause physical changes to your brain. ...
  • Tune Out.

What are the positive effects of reducing screen time? ›

The benefits of limiting screen time for your child would include, but are not limited to: improved sleep habits, better focus and brain function, increased academic success, decrease in obesity, better vision, and lower risk of anxiety and depression.

How do I help my child self regulate screen time? ›

Set the timer to 5 minutes less than the allotted amount of time and give your kids a “5 minute warning” so they can mentally prepare for shutting down. If you can, sit with your child for those last 5-10 minutes and get curious. Ask questions, take a turn, engage.

Do you feel parents should limit their children's time spent using technology? ›

Parents of children who are getting excessive screen time could see changes in behavior as well as impacts on their developing brains. While the Internet is an incredible tool, spending too much time online or in front of screens, and not enough time being active can lead to: Childhood obesity. Psychological problems.

Should parents limit and monitor their kids use of social media? ›

Limiting chat functions, especially among strangers, and limiting exposure to adult content is also recommended. Particularly for younger teens, parents may consider allowing social media use only when children are at home so that parents can keep a closer eye on their online activities.


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