How to help your child set healthy screen time limits

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Discover how you can help your child set healthy screen time limits and stay safe online.

Key points

  • It is important to teach your child healthy habits about screens so that they can maintain them as they become more independent. Healthy habits set in early life are more likely to continue into older childhood and adolescence.
  • You can help your child set healthy screen time limits by gradually changing their routine, talking to them about technology, helping them change their screen time habits and creating a supportive environment.
  • Make sure your child understands the importance of balancing technology (i.e. screens) with other activities, such as playing, reading, socializing with others or using their imagination.
  • Keep your child safe online by setting up a child account with parental controls and warning them not to share personal information with online friends.

Although screen time can be very enjoyable for you and your child, too much screen time can lead to negative behaviours and emotions. For this reason, it is important to monitor your child’s screen time and encourage your child to balance it with screen-free activities.

Ninety percent of children today are exposed to screen-based activities before the age of 2. These early years are extremely important for a child’s proper growth and development, so it is important to minimize excessive screen time.

Habits formed during the early years may carry into adolescence and adulthood. Children rely on you to teach them healthy screen time habits when they are young so that they can maintain those habits as they become more independent. They also rely on you to create an environment where they can go online safely.


How to manage your child’s screen time

You can help your child manage their screen time by:

  • setting daily screen time limits
  • introducing and enforcing gradual changes to set screen time limits
  • talking to your child about technology
  • helping your child change their screen time habits
  • creating an environment that supports reduced screen time.

Introduce screen time rules

If screen time makes up a large part of your child’s routine, you can start by setting rules that focus on gradual changes.

  • Start decreasing screen time in small steps until it reaches the recommended limits for your child’s age group. If your child has a lot more than 2 hours of screen time a day, for example, try decreasing it by 15 minutes a day for a week at a time and progress slowly towards meeting the recommended times for their age.
  • Set 'screen-free' zones in the house – these should include mealtimes and bedrooms.
  • Have a 'no television or screens' rule before bedtime. Your child will get a better night’s sleep if they stop using screens at least 60-90 minutes before bedtime. Encourage more relaxing activities like reading, doing a puzzle or taking a bath.
  • Children tend to have most recreational screen time right after school and before bedtime. Encourage active play during these times instead.
  • Set limits on time spent playing "active" video games. They are advertised as a good way to be active, but children and teens quickly learn how to play using minimal gestures (for example using wrist movement only). This greatly reduces the amount they need to move.
  • Encourage your child to move while enjoying some screen time (for instance stretching during a commercial break).
  • Instead of playing video games as a family, try a new activity like going for a walk, doing a puzzle or playing games.
  • Be aware of your own screen time and model healthy habits for your child.

Talk to your child about technology

Talking to your child about the negatives and positives of technology will help them understand the importance of having interests that go beyond the screen.

The negatives of screen time

  • Sometimes your child may come across something on a screen that is not age-appropriate. Encourage your child to turn off the screen and alert you if something has scared them or does not feel right.
  • Hanging out with friends and family face-to-face helps us experience positive emotions and feel closer to others. Social media and technology can make children and teens feel lonelier because it eliminates the need to call a friend or meet up with someone in person. It also increases the risk of being contacted by an online predator. A predator will usually pretend to be someone your child’s age and try to make friends with your child.
  • Staring passively at a screen usually does not require children to use their imagination. A healthy imagination is important for children and teens to generate ideas, solve problems and entertain themselves without technology.
  • Without suitable limits, screen time can become addictive, leaving little energy, interest or motivation for other activities.
  • While using screens, children are also more likely to eat unhealthier foods (high in sugar, fat, and salt).

Can screens affect my child's sleep?


For more videos from SickKids experts in collaboration with Youngster, visit Youngster on YouTube.

The positives of screen time

  • Technology can support your child’s learning by giving them access to information and educational tools.
  • Your child can also learn new skills online – including languages, dance routines, or crafts.
  • A certain amount of screen time can help children and teens stay connected with important people in their life who may be far away.
  • In moderation, screen time can also help create fun family memories, such as enjoying a movie or video game together.
  • Technology can also be a method of communication for some children, particularly those with neurodevelopmental conditions.

When teaching your child about screen time, make sure your child understands that it is a privilege. They should also understand the importance of balancing technology with other activities. Technology can open many doors for your child, but it can sometimes feel overwhelming. Ask your child how they feel about the screens in their life.

Create a supportive environment

Even with the best information and rules, it can be hard for a child to change their screen time habits if their physical environment (i.e. home environment) does not support it. The following tips can help you change your child’s environment to reduce their daily screen time.

  • Keep TVs and computers out of bedrooms.
  • Choose an hour or two during the day that is "screen free". You can use this time to cook dinner with your child, play a board game or spend time outside.
  • If you can, create a screen-free room in your home where your child can go to relax and play.
  • Turn off the television while you are eating meals.
  • Make sure your child has access to physical activities in a safe environment, whether at school, at your local recreation centre or with friends.
  • Make it easy for your child to choose healthy snacks such as vegetables, fruit or a yogurt if they like to eat while enjoying screen time.
  • Provide positive prompts and praise when your child engages in non-screen activities. This will help establish a positive feedback loop.

How to keep your child safe online

Screens will always be part of your child’s life, whether they are doing homework or research, relaxing with a game or chatting to their friends. That said, there are some simple steps you can take to keep them as safe as possible online.

  • If your child uses a shared computer or other device, set them up with their own child account and use parental controls to filter the content they can see online.
  • Remind your child that someone they meet online may not be who they say they are.
  • Teach your child not to answer an online friend’s questions about themselves (e.g. full name, birthday, where they live and go to school) or their family, no matter how friendly they seem.
Last updated: மே 5th 2020