While screen-based technology has helped people continue work and school during the pandemic, remote learning and working from home have made it difficult for many children and adults to limit daily screen use.
Excessive use of computers, tablets, TVs and smartphones can cause a variety of health issues, including difficulty sleeping, weight gain, vision and attention problems, mood disorders, and more.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following screen time guidelines for children:
- 0 to 24 months – No screen time other than video calls or chats with relatives or close friends
- 2 years to 5 years – Limit screen use to one hour per day of high-quality programming
- 5 years and older – Two hours of screen time per day
“With children learning remotely and parents working from home, it’s understandable that many parents—and even adults, for that matter—are finding it difficult to limit screen time,” says Emma Hollingsworth, MD, a family medicine physician with IU Health Physicians Family Medicine in Indianapolis. “While we need to give ourselves some grace in this unusual time, it’s important to keep screen time limits top of mind and look for alternative ways to spend time when screens are being used just for recreation or to pass the time.”
Tips for limiting screen time
Setting limits for screen time is often easier, Hollingsworth says, when both adults and children in the family follow the same rules. Some suggestions include:
- Establishing a cut-off time at night for screen use. Designate a place for all phones, tablets and laptops to be stored at the end of the day.
- Keeping smartphones and other mobile devices out of bedrooms overnight. Charge devices in a central location downstairs; use a traditional alarm clock for waking in the morning.
- Making mealtime screen free. This helps encourage family connection. It also prevents mindless eating and enables both children and adults to notice when they are full.
Managing screen time for different ages – younger kids, teens and adults, too
“For younger children, we recommend that whenever possible, parents watch programming with their child and use it as something to talk about together—instead of just something the kids do on their own,” Hollingsworth says.
Staying on social media and using mobile devices late at night are areas where older children and teenagers often struggle.
“Social media and screens are addictive,” Hollingsworth says. “If it’s difficult for an adult to put down their phone and not check Instagram several times a day, then think how hard it is for a teenager who doesn’t have as much life experience with setting limits.”
Encouraging children and teens to take part in other activities, such as sports, a hobby, or something that doesn’t rely on a screen, is one of the most important things parents can do to help set healthy boundaries for screen time.
“I always tell parents to work toward getting their child to do at least one physical thing a day that gets them up and moving and one creative activity a day,” she says. “Using screens just to pass time is less likely when kids are busy with other healthy activities in their life.”
While the focus tends to be on setting screen time limits for children, adults also should be mindful of screen time habits. Because adults can experience similar health effects from excessive screen use, Hollingsworth recommends limiting screen time to essential tasks and taking breaks from screens when they are necessary for work or school.