Jentrie Hales, community advocate, @techhealthyfam
A pre-pandemic 2020 Pediatric Early Warning Systems (PEWS) study found that two-thirds of parents agree that technology makes parenting harder. And, news flash: Being a parent is already pretty difficult. Managing screens in your home no doubt adds another layer of overwhelm, which leads to wanting answers to questions such as: “How much screen time should my child have each day”? It’s a reasonable thing for parents to wonder … so why is it so difficult to think through?
The American Academy of Pediatrics does give some guidelines. They recommend no screen time, besides video chatting, for littles under 2 years of age. Kiddos ages 2 to 5 should have an hour or less a day and children and teens should have less than two hours of recreational screen time per day.
If this information sends a pain of guilt in you for allowing/encouraging more screen time than is recommended, take a deep breath, know that you aren’t alone, and get ready to take a hard look at how screen time is serving or hurting your family. Also drop the shame. Shame mixed with technology mixed with parenting is not a helpful or safe combination.
So, to really gauge how much time on screens is appropriate and healthy for your child, there are more productive questions to contemplate rather than just a number. Please also consider these important factors:
1. Not all screen time is created equal. It’s important to know what your child is consuming. There is a big difference between two hours of Peppa Pig and two hours of Grand Theft Auto. Something else to consider is that many games and shows are marketed as “educational,” but have very little evidence proving that.
2. Screen time should not be the main thing in your child’s life. What is their screen time replacing? The average teen spends over seven hours a day on their devices just for entertainment purposes alone, and younger kids aren’t that far behind. That’s a lot of time away from developing interests, practicing hobbies, and interacting with their friends in real life. If your child’s screen time seems to be taking away from any of these things, chances are it’s too much.
3. The body is a powerful tool in recognizing unhealthy screen time habits. How can you tell in your body when you have spent too much time scrolling, watching, or playing on your device? You probably feel a bit irritable, unproductive, and kind of sluggish. Same goes for your child. If there are absolute meltdowns when screens are removed or if your child seems super anxious away from their device, that could be a sign from their body that their screen time is too much for them.
As a parent with kids who use technology, it’s imperative to know the answers to questions like this because at the end of the day your true superpower is your awareness, presence, and love in your child’s life. Your divine role as a parent is more important than a number.
Jentrie Hales is a community advocate with five years’ experience empowering parents and children in different settings. She has been invited into classrooms, youth groups, and parent groups throughout the Cache Valley to speak about healthy relationships with tech and professionally mentors families that feel overwhelmed with managing the tech in their home. Follow her on Instagram @techhealthyfam or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.