Parenting Matters: Managing screen time

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Children used to play more outside with friends or even just ride around on bicycles. That seems to have passed and now more youths seem to prefer being in front of a screen of some sort.

Many parents are totally upset and don’t know what to do with the video games, television, laptops, smartphones and tablets that dominate the world of our young people. Many parents are looking at this issue and taking steps to take back control. Here are a few things that may work for you.

“How much screen time is too much?” No one can really tell you the answer to this question. The few studies done on this are on our youngest children and the research there is clear that limiting screen time is highly desirable. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under 2 not have screen time. As they grow older, they can have an increasing amount but far less than is found in most homes today.

One of the biggest problems is that too much screen time impacts the development of social skills. This isn’t clear whether the screen helps or hinders children. Games and technology can be rewarding for children and they even can get positive response from other peers online. But if your child has trouble getting along with others his age, he may need more time to interact with peers on a face-to-face basis.

One other problem with too much technology is there can be inappropriate content they are watching. In addition, children may not have the important thinking skills to figure out what things are real and what are not. Another danger is the risk of your child sharing too much information about himself, which may pose a danger to him.

Whatever rules you establish for how much and what kind of screen time your child has, communicate it clearly to your child and then enforce the rules consistently.

Setting the rules

1. How much screen time do you think is reasonable for your child to use each day?

2. Is the use of screen time limited to certain times of day?

3. What types of content will you allow your child to view or interact with?4. What will happen if the rules are broken?

Screen time comes after your child has earned it. Let your child know exactly what needs to be done each day in order to earn the privilege of screen time. Most parents believe that their child should help out around the house in some way. For example, a child as young as 4 might be expected to put his or her own toys back in a specific place when done.

You might decide that your child needs to play outside or with a friend for at least an hour before he has earned any screen time. A teen probably has more tasks and those also would include looking at what is necessary to do for school. Any responsibilities your child has should come before screen time.

Talk with your child about the rules in your home. Even look at the kinds of screen time contracts ( that are on the Internet. Make your own contract based on the age of your child. Have your child sign it and even post it in his bedroom. This helps make things clear and will avoid anyone “forgetting” the rules.

I have written about screen time before. But this is a problem that is likely to present itself in different forms at different ages. Be prepared to be in charge and set the rules and enforce them. This is what you need to do with any rules you put down for your child.


Cynthia Martin is the founder of the First Teacher program and director of Parenting Matters Foundation, which publishes newsletters for parents, caregivers and grandparents. Reach Martin at or at 681-2250.


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