Screen time means all the time spent using digital devices (smartphones, television, computer, tablets, videogames). It’s a good idea to talk about the amount of daily screen time with your children and to agree on limits for the use of devices in your family. It’s difficult to give specific recommendations about screen time, considering that schoolchildren use their phones to communicate with friends. Listen to your child and, if necessary, don’t hesitate to restrict device use. Some children are more likely than others to become overactive from using digital devices. For children under school age, you should limit screen time to no more than two hours daily, leaving enough time for physical activity and interaction with others.
Make a screen deal and don’t hesitate to set limits
A screen deal for the whole family helps you keep within the limits. The things you can write down include the weekly amount of video gaming hours, the days when video gaming is allowed or where phones spend the night. You could agree on a phone charging station on the hallway table for the night. It’s the parents’ duty to set limits and also be consistent in keeping to the limits. This is how the child learns that agreements are meant to be kept. For example, if you have agreed that phones are not allowed during mealtimes, it’s important that the adults set a good example and follow the rules too.
Keep an eye together on the symptoms caused by too much screen in your child. Frequent tantrums when screen time ends or thoughts always revolving around video gaming or social media may be signs of overactivity caused by too much screen time. Headache, irritability, restlessness and trouble sleeping are also signs that screen use should be reduced.
Talk to your child about any symptoms, rules and feelings, for example “I see you’re upset because you’re not allowed to play on the computer or watch programmes on your tablet, but sometimes you need to let your brain rest and make up other games.” Or “It’s too late to watch any programmes, because you have to calm down before bedtime. Then you won’t be tired tomorrow at school.” Children’s brains need time to recover from digital stimuli.
Take an interest in how your children use screens
Digital devices also provide many good things. Today, it’s hard to imagine life without fast communications and the ability to take photos any time. For children, games can help in language development, improve problem-solving and develop visual intellect. If you ban all devices altogether, you miss out on the positive effects. Use common sense when setting limits and be open-minded and interested in the potential of technology and in how your children use the various devices.
- Divide your children’s screen time into smaller portions. Spending many hours without breaks looking at bright and flashing screens is hard on children’s eyes and brains.
- Make your family screen deal and keep it where you can easily see it. A clear agreement means you won’t have to have the same discussion every day about how much video gaming is allowed.
- Get to know the world of internet, games and social media together. Show an interest in how your children use devices and guide them about netiquette. You can create the child’s first user IDs together.
- Be aware of what your children are watching, following or writing online.
- There are digital restrictions and automatic time limits you can set in smartphones or computers your children use.
- A buzzing timer is a clear signal to the child that screen time has ended.
- Check the position your children are in when they are playing on tablets or scrolling smartphones. Headache is a natural consequence of a crouched back and hunched shoulders.
- Help your children come up with other things to do by themselves and with friends.
For further information, see the Children and media handbook produced by the National Audiovisual Institute (KAVI), Aikakausmedia (Finnish Periodical Publishers’ Association), the Lastenlinkit.fi website, the Finnish Lions Club, the Mannerheim League for Child Welfare and the Finnish Communications Regulatory Authority.