Parenting 101: Managing Screen Time

Parenting 101: Managing Screen Time

If you’re one of the many parents that’s constantly fighting a battle against screen time, you’re not alone. Children glued to screens is fast becoming the biggest agro in modern day households. Aside from the fact we want our children playing outdoors rather than inside, there are many mental health and physical worries that are associated with too much screen time. We spoke to Dr Jim Sears, pediatrician, host of The Dr Sears Family Podcast and author of several parenting books, to find out how we can manage the problem, fairly.

First and foremost, screens are here and not going anywhere, so what now?  

Yes, exactly. Parents need to understand that screens are becoming a bigger part of all of our lives. I do all my banking and most of my shopping on my phone. Using our screens has become a modern way of life for us all.  It’s easy to blame the parents, but it’s simply the way we live now so we need to learn how best to manage it, which includes setting appropriate limits for kids (like in all aspects of their life).

But how does one stop this becoming an obsession? 

I think it’s important to make sure the child/tween/teen understands the following concept: Yes, the phone can be useful and fun, but it’s not the only thing you’re going to do all day. My kids have always had an ‘equal time’ guideline to their screen time:  If you’re going to spend an hour playing on your Xbox, then you’re going to also spend an hour outside doing things outside. 

We noticed that our daughter was taking a long time getting ready for school in the mornings. I observed her trying to make breakfast with one hand while watching YouTube on her phone with the other. After insisting that the phone stays off until all her other morning duties were done, she became much more efficient at getting ready for school.  

Are there any apps that can help parents gain control over their child’s screens? And if so, which ones do you recommend? 

We used Kidslox for a while when our children were younger. It’s easy to use and allowed us to set limits for various apps. We could also grant extra time as a special treat. We now use Screen Time since it came installed on my daughter’s new phone.  

Is there a ‘right’ amount of screen time? 

This will vary based on the child and the type of content they’re looking at. When we review our daughter’s screen time breakdown, we don’t account for the few hours a day that are used listening to music or on phone calls. We do, however, pay attention to time spent on the ‘mindless’ stuff. For younger kids, more than an hour is often too much.   

Is there a way to avoid this unhealthy obsession from occurring in the first place? 

Like any activity, there needs to be balance in a child’s life. Even if your child was trying to do homework 24 hours a day, you should encourage them to take breaks. It’s all about balance, but one that the parent manages. 

When, in your opinion, is an acceptable time to get your child a tablet or phone?  

Studies show that kids can learn from apps, and exposure to digital tools such as tablets and phones and computers can provide a helpful boost. Consider why you want to get the device for your child in the first place: is it to get them prepped for school? Is it to keep them entertained? Is it to let them practice their academic skills? Tablets can do all these things – but they can't do them alone. Choosing quality apps geared toward your kids' ages, setting realistic expectations and supporting your kids' learning both on – and off – the device is key. So, it really depends on the reason and the maturity of your child too. 

The 10 Screen Time Rules To Practice… 


1. Be ‘friends’ with your kids online: Know who their friends are, who they are following and who is following them.

2. Check their search history: Tell your kids you will be regularly checking their phones. If their search history is erased, then the consequence should be to take their phone away from them for a significant amount of time, such as a week. 

3. Have a few times of the day that are ‘No Phone Zones’: This allows for less arguing about the kids being on their phones too much. For our family these are…

a) Mornings while getting ready for school or work

b) Any car rides that are less than 20 min

c) Meal times

4. Have an open review of their phone usage: Openly discuss with them how they are using their phones and other screens. 

5. Encourage content creation: Instead of only content consumption.

6. Use screens to bond together: Screen time shouldn’t always be alone time. Play games with your kids. View videos together. All this promotes interaction, bonding and helps reduce arguments about screen time.  

7. Be sure your child’s privacy settings are appropriate for their age: And that they understand the necessary boundaries when it comes to dealing with potential strangers online.

8. Don’t use technology as an emotional pacifier: Media can help keep kids calm and quiet, but it should not be the only way they learn to calm down. Children need to be taught how to identify and handle strong emotions, come up with activities to manage boredom, or calm down through breathing, and finding other strategies for channelling emotions.

9. Be a good example: Kids copy the behaviour of their parents – it’s a fact. Always be aware of your own screen time and how often you’re on the phone, texting, checking your email etc in front of your children. Always be present for your children. 

10. Use their phone to help them learn responsibility: If they want the latest and greatest phone, have them earn the money for it. And make them keep track of where their charger is – there can be some good life lessons in a low battery...

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