- How much time should a child spend on the internet?
- Do kids spend too much time on digital devices?
- How much time online is too much?
In today’s digital world, trying to place a number on how much time kids should spend online, can almost feel the same as trying to figure out how long they should play outside.
It’s mind-boggling. One of the most frequent battles parents have to fight is constantly having screen time-related negotiations. But have no fear! At GoStudent, we’ve come up with a guide to help support you through these challenges. Read on to easily identify if your child is spending too much time online and what you can do to give them a more balanced digital life.
How much time should a child spend on the internet?
As much as we’d like to give you that ‘magic number’, there simply isn’t one.
Though the answer can be very simple. Just like you don’t want your children to stare at the T.V. for hours on end, children shouldn’t be on the internet for too long either. The right amount of time all depends on what impact it has on their health and growth.
In 2019, The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) published guidance on the research they had conducted into the health impacts of screen time use of under 18s. They chose not to recommend a cut-off for children's overall screen time but instead to focus on practical ways in which parents could consider the overall wellbeing of their family's digital use.
RCPCH recommended parents look at quality over quantity when deciding on screen time usage for their kids. This means that one hour of playing video games isn’t the same as researching online to complete homework.
Prolonged social media use can have harmful effects on children’s mental health, while extended learning online will not produce the same negative results. Though unrestricted screen time, in general, can negatively affect eyesight and sleep.
For a more guided way of examining if your child has a healthy amount of screen time, The RCPCH developed four key questions for families to answer.
Is screen time in your household controlled?
Children cannot have free rein when it comes to their screen time usage Adults should be the ones in control and children must be held accountable to the rules. A good way of enforcing screen time rules is by creating digital contracts with your children or child locks for younger children.
Does screen use interfere with what your family wants to do?
Do you find your child distracted by their smartphone at the dinner table while you try to have a conversation with them? Or perhaps they want to ditch the family picnic to play video games? These could be signs of too much screen time because it's preventing time together as a family.
Does screen use interfere with sleep?
A general rule for both adults and kids would be having no screen time before sleeping. The blue light from screens blocks the hormone in the body that helps it prepare for sleep. If your child is waking up groggy in the mornings from using a digital device the previous night, their screen time needs to be reduced.
Are you able to control snacking during screen time?
“There is a strong link between screen time and unhealthy eating,” says Dr Emma Haycraft from Loughborough University, who co-led the study Clustering and correlates of screen time and eating behaviours among young adolescents. “Habits such as snacking whilst watching television or using phones or tablets is a detrimental health behaviour as most snacks tend to be high-energy – full of sugar or bad fats.”
Find your child consuming too many unhealthy snacks during screen time. Then it’s time to cut down the hours they spend online.
If you feel satisfied with your answers to these questions, then rest assured that the amount of time your child spends on the internet probably isn’t too much for them. ✊
How much time online is too much?
Going back to the RCPCH questions, if you aren’t happy with your answers then your child is most probably spending too much time online.
Below is a list of behaviours from your children that suggest they need to reduce their screen time:
- Constantly losing track of time while online
- Sacrificing necessary hours of sleep to spend time online
- Becoming agitated or angry when they are not online or their online time is interrupted
- Checking their messages constantly throughout the day
- Avoiding responsibilities like chores or homework to spend time online instead
- Not wanting to spend time with friends and family so they can be online
- Lie to you about the amount of time they spent online or sneaking around to spend more time online
- Seeming preoccupied with getting back online whenever they’re away from a digital device
- Losing interest in activities that they used to enjoy before they had online access
- Escaping into the internet to avoid their feelings, especially when it comes to painful or troubling situations
- Seeming upset when spending time on their devices
- Becoming defensive and aggressive when they’re told to cut down their screen time
However, this list only holds if most of the behaviours from it are being exhibited by your child. One or two such habits can also be circumstantial.
Perhaps your child is spending more time online because they discovered a new game or show, have a new love interest or are finishing a big homework assignment. 👏
Do kids spend too much time on digital devices?
This is a relative question. The UK’s chief medical officers agree that there is no sufficient scientific evidence available yet to produce guidelines on optimal amounts of screen use or online activities.
Research carried out by Ofcom found that parents of older children were more concerned about screen time than parents of younger children. 86% of parents of 3 to 4 year-olds said their child had a good balance, compared to 57% of parents of 12 to 15-year olds.
With the pandemic bringing online education into children’s lives, kids spending time on digital devices has naturally increased. Yet there have been many benefits of online classes and digital learning models like hybrid-blended learning.
GoStudent also offers 1:1 online tutoring, with a tailored learning plan for your child. You can book a free trial lesson. 🚀
If you want children to be self-disciplined when it comes to the time they spend online, conversations about screen time management are a good place to start.
Younger children can be asked to look out for physical signs of prolonged time spent online. While with older children you can guide them to ask questions about their feelings when they are on their devices:
- The battery on the device gets low or runs out completely
- They feel tired or their eyes hurt
- They get hungry very often
- Their phone or tablet feels hot
- They need to use the bathroom
- Do they feel pressure to always reply to friends or look a certain way on social media?
- Do they go online when they feel upset, fearful or angry?
- Is there something or someone online that is making them feel unsafe?
If you still feel you can’t manage your child’s screen time or online addiction, there is no shame in seeking counselling to help your child. Also, remember that children absorb what they see, so you need to control the time you spend on your digital devices as well. 👊
We know it can be challenging trying to manage your child’s screen time. Yet we encourage you to be patient with yourself and your child. Even as adults we often spend too much time online only to realise it is overwhelming us. Kids need all the more support to be mindful of their screen time.