screen time for children

“Mama, I am bored,” yelped the elder and younger sons in tandem.

I caught my head between my hands as I knew the familiar course this conversation was about to take.

Yes, this issue about screen time for children I’ve been pondering over for a few months now. Both my kids love doing interactive activities, watch/hear music, play games, see trailers of movies, sometimes watch shows on their gadgets and TV. While on a normal school day, they only get about 4-5 hours from the time they are home to going to bed, they have more hours at hand on the weekends.

Before you think they don’t go out to play. They do. Both of them do about an hour of cycling/playing with friends every evening. The younger son even more, so much so that I keep track of the time he spends outdoors. So then what is the problem you ask?

The thing is that I am confused about exactly how much screen time is suitable? There are so many engrossing options on gadgets these days — interactive studying, informative videos, educational materials and so on. Throw in a movie, some browsing, some programs on the TV and screen time easily stretches into hours. Never mind that most of the time spent on the gadgets is not mindless. The elder son reads books on his tablet. He also needs to study/prepare for events/projects on the laptop.

With all the studies about increased screen time affecting the health, sleep and motor functions especially of hands, I am a confused mother. How much screen time is okay? What is doable and desirable? I know they are children but look at us adults. We spend an obscene amount of time on our gadgets. Whether it is for work reasons or leisure like being on social media or even reading articles. We do pack in a lot of screen time daily. So what is the middle path that we must try for children?

Another constraint if I have blanket rules is that they complain of being bored all the time. What can I do to help that? I have pretty full weekends and I can chip in with playing table tennis or some board games but that will be all. They have no inclination for any form of art or craft. Neither have they really offered to help in the kitchen.

screen time for children

My real questions are – should I stop them from watching movies on TV? They don’t really see any cartoons or other stuff on TV. Also the younger son watches shows like Nat Geo Animal or Air Crash investigations or Megastructures. Programs that are highly informative. Isn’t there a good screen time for children?

I allow them 1 hour for gadget games from Friday to Sunday and on holidays. So that is the idle entertainment gadget time. Apart from that they do some browsing like watching youtube videos of cars, music videos, reading articles (elder son). So how much should I allow and what should I hold back?

I spoke with a Counselor friend who said that letting the children get bored is good. That is easier said than done. It just leads to whiny kids. What is the line that we parents must draw? I had a talk with both the kids and decided to ask them for inputs. We could not come up with anything concrete.

Do you guys have experiences or suggestions to share? It will be helpful. Do you remember what we did in our childhood without gadgets, internet and multiple TV channels and not complain of boredom?

Pics courtesy: Gary Perkin and Levent Konuk from Shutterstock

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31 Thoughts on “What is the Optimum Screen Time for Children?

  1. If we compare just the screen time we got as kids then any amount is too much and an exponential growth. But that is not practically possible. We give 45 minutes each per day to kids and they can choose between channels to watch. There is no fixed one size fits all formulae so each family needs to find their own method
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  2. No idea what is the right screen time for kids, Rachna. Just the other day someone else also was saying that it is good to let kids get bored because that’s when they’ll realise what it is that they really like doing, they’ll be forced to think or something of that sort. Then the points you made are also valid because screen time is not all bad. I really don’t have the answer to the question. For now, I used youtube rhymes to make M sit at one place when I try to feed her. Doctors say I shouldn’t but then she doesn’t eat and I don’t know what else to do. Plus I must confess sometimes I like to take the easy way out because I tend to be so tired.
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    • I used to play ads when they were young to make them eat. But we naturally outgrew this habit in a couple of years. It is a challenge to keep kids away from passive watching of TV. Luckily, no one in the house watches much TV and they never picked that habit. But yes, the little things add up. After reading the comments, l feel that the kids are doing okay. Of course l will still monitor if they go overboard with their screen time.

  3. This is one of my favourite topics ? I think anything in moderation is good, Rachna. If they’re getting enough exercise, healthy eating and other offline options during the week, an hour of screen time on weekends is fine. I’m talking about gadgets more than TV. TV is not as addictive or detrimental as screen time from gadgets. There’s a very important reason gadget time is better restricted for kids and adults and that’s the fact that it messes up sleep rhythms and concentration levels. If those can be handled well and they’re anyway playing educational and some entertaining games, this should be fine.
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    • Overall they seem to be doing fine on all parameters. But this counselor l spoke to included TV in the screen time. That passive viewing of TV is not desirable too which got me thinking. Of course too much of anything is bad. And that is the strategy l go by. If they go overboard, l clamp down. Else l don’t really breathe down their necks.

  4. For my sons, I do not restrict the screen time. But I have fixed times for sleeping, playing outdoors, helping out, etc. And I feel, they also learn new things by searching on their gadgets. I have limited laptop usage time though as it is more addictive than the cell phone. They spend more time on their cell phones than on TV which is hardly watched nowadays. I control wi-fi access. With no wi-fi, hardly anything they can do on the cell phones. They get bored anyways and go out with friends. I keep a check on what they are watching. Hope this helps.
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  5. Rachna, I feel it varies from child to child. In Trisha’s case I realized (a bit belatedly) even though she spent much time on the computer, read books, watched TV, she devoted enough time to studies. Some kids are good with just 1-2 hours of study time, while many need more.

    I feel letting them decide their own TV watching hours makes them feel responsible.
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  6. That’s a toughie to answer, Rachna. When we were kids, we didn’t have all these “screen” options. No smart phones, no computer & internet, and just Doordarshan on the TV. I was a bookworm, so I had my eyes glued in books, which is probably equally bad. Most of the kids in my building like to hang out together downstairs, in the play area or the lobby. They bring their board games down, even their dolls (in case of girls).
    Kaddu recently posted…Book Review: Diablo by Douglas MisquitaMy Profile

    • Thanks, Kaddu. Yep, my kids also play outdoors and do it daily. It’s mostly over the weekend that l wonder if they are spending too much time on TV or browsing.

  7. I haven’t experienced this problem so far because the girls are interested in arts and crafts and in weaving stories. So they spend time making stuff using origami, glass painting, terra art or sketching and drawing or writing. Their screen time is at max two hours. An hour after they reach home and about one hour during dinner time. On weekends we mostly take them out to historic monuments or cultural events or we watch a movie or Nat Geo/Animal World together. But I guess as they grow up, the screen time will increase because of more time on laptop for doing projects.
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    • Thanks for sharing, Rekha. The kids have much lesser screen time on weekdays and no TV while eating. It’s mostly weekends or holidays when l feel they do more. As you pointed out, there are so many school projects that they need to do over gadgets that cannot be helped.

  8. Screen time is a major issue nowadays. When we were kids, TV was the only thing available and we never got the control of remote even. My almost 7 year old kid watches videos in YouTube in his iPad, also Netflix for cartoons. He plays Minecraft too in the gadget. He spends at least an hour on iPad daily, some days more than that. So far I’m finding it okay, even though sometimes I find it annoying that he is absorbed in Minecraft. He does his homework and the extra reading and other works I give him. But the moment he gets adamant that he can’t detach himself from the screen, I take it away. It’s working for me now. Don’t know how it will be when he becomes a teen.
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  9. when i will have my own child may be that time i will be able to give suggestions more perfectly but now i think its always better to keep your child away from electronic gadgets as much as possible, except for some necessary works, TV is much better than than other gadgets coz it does not radiate as much as electromagnetic rays as the other gadgets radiate and one more reason the TV is much safe coz it always remains far away from our body than other gadgets.
    they also need relaxation in their own way under ur supervision.
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  10. Difficult one to answer as each kid is different .Based on their inclination it is best to guide as but for some channels like Discovery, Natgeo most are a waste of time especially for school going children. Inculcating reading habits pays in long run.
    Rahul recently posted…Diwali in SingaporeMy Profile

    • No, Rahul. These channels are very educative. Not at all a waste of time. Oh, they do read. But they can’t read 12 hours in a day. We have to be realistic about our expectations.

  11. Yogi Saraswat on November 8, 2016 at 3:04 pm said:

    Also the younger son watches shows like Nat Geo Animal or Air Crash investigations or Megastructures. Programs that are highly informative. Isn’t there a good screen time for children? I am a father not mom so my views may be different from you but I think this is good sign of your son as he is creative and will do something new . I always permit my both sons to watch these types of program as I think this all make a child creative.

  12. Hi Rachna,
    A very nice topic! This is the situation every parent faces these days. Nowadays, Children are smarter due to the technology easily available for them. They spent more time on Internet and on TV.
    In our childhood, there was no such gadgets and technology available so we used to play different outdoor and indoor games.
    But yes, allowing too much time for screen is also not good, we should encourage them to take participation in other outdoor games. I have a 5 years school going kid. He used to spend most of the time (3-4 Hours) either watching TV or playing games on my smartphone. But now I have restricted it to 1 hour for TV and 30 minutes for playing games on phone. I encouraged him to go outside and play outdoor games.

    • Good strategy, Kalpana. The time for entertainment is quite less for my children. Not more than half an hour daily on weekdays and 1 hour on weekends on their gadgets. But the other time for projects etc. and TV time adds up too.

  13. Screen Time is a big headache.Kids want to watch TV all the time.Putting a restriction on it and weaning them away from the idiot box is a big effort.Just started with a TV timetable for my son.Key is to make them agree for the timetable

  14. This is a rising issue that should be discussed. For I see all the kids irrespective of age know to handle smart phone and technology than us. Isn’t it bad? It has its merits however I find demerits many !

  15. That’s a tough question. And there really can’t be a single fit for all days or all kids. During weekdays there is no screen time at all for H and N. It’s the weekends that get tricky. And that’s the time they go overboard – about three to four hours. However, as long as their studies don’t suffer I let them be. It’s not an ideal situation but the whining gets to me. No matter what psychologists say handling two whiny/annoyed/frustrated kids is not easy, more so when you have chores to handle, assignments to turn in and books to read. Sigh!
    We didn’t have so many gadgets back when we were young. But I do remember getting crazily bored during the summer holidays and looking forward to school. We played board games a lot – carom and chinese chequers and ludo. I don’t see kids these days doing much of that. The gadgets are far more entertaining even for me.
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  16. Yeah a tough question with no easy answers. Even my son watches nat geo, discovery science and aircraft adventures. And they are very informative. I let him watch 1 hr on weekends and no TV on weekdays. But I do make exceptions at times if none of his friends are available and I am also busy. Video games I have totally stopped him as I realized it had gotten addictive.
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