How Screen Time is Affecting Your Child, and What to Do About It

Kids are drawn to screens—whether TV, tablet, phone, or computer—like moths to a flame. And it would be tough to find a parent who hasn’t handed over a screen of some sort to keep their child occupied. Like most things in life, a little is fine; but if your child is spending a chunk of time each day glued to a screen, you need to make some changes.

children using screensDesigned for Learning

Children’s brains are built to learn. And that learning goes beyond academics; it includes how to interact with other people, how to control impulses and emotions, and even skills of physical coordination like running and balancing. If your child is spending time every day with screens, instead of reading books or playing, then that learning is not going to be as robust or diverse as it should be to help your child grow and develop. Think of time spent in front of screens as practice or learning time; that means lots of screen time teaches kids how to be good at interacting with screens, when they should be learning and practicing lots of other skills, too.

Changes Are More Than Skin Deep

Screen time can change your child’s brain. We know now that when children spend excessive amounts of time with screens, it affects their how they process information. Kids who are plugged in regularly struggle with controlling their impulses, have trouble making decisions, have a tougher time paying attention than their peers, and often don’t sleep well. Lack of deep sleep creates a whole list of other problems for kids; none of them are good for them or their development.

That Ship Has Sailed

If you already have a screen addict on your hands—which is probably true for most of us—here’s what you can do to get a handle on the situation and help your child make good use of his time.

What Parents Can Do
 Set and enforce screen time limits. Explain your concerns to your child, and agree on specific daily limits. Then follow through.
 Think about the time of day your child is using screens. The blue light that comes from our devices triggers the brain to wake up. Limit screen time before bed to help your child get more restful sleep; don’t allow it for at least an hour before bedtime.
 Consider using screen time as a reward or consequence. Most kids really value screens. You can have kids earn their daily screen time by completing homework, chores, etc., offer bonus screen time as a reward, or take away screens for a day or two as a consequence for bad behavior.
 Use technology to help. Parental control settings on most versions of the Kindle Fire, apps for download on iPads, iPhones or Android devices, and other similar tools will help you manage and enforce your child’s usage. Don’t rely on yourself to monitor your child; it’s too easy to get busy and not realize that another hour of screen time has slipped by.
 Help kids develop other interests. Involve them in sports or cooking, help them find great books they love, set up play time with their friends (and limit screen time during play dates, too).
 Model screen-free behavior. If you’re preaching to your kids about screens and then spending hours scrolling through Facebook, texting, or playing games on your phone—your message is going to flop. (You might be surprised by your own habits; an app called Checky will monitor your own phone usage and show you how many times you check your phone. It can be an eye opener!)
All Apps Are Not Created Equal

Use screen time wisely. All apps are not created equal. Help your child choose apps that will give them good educational experiences. Check out some of the recommendations at Common Sense Media to help you find great learning apps for kids. And don’t miss out on Hooked on Phonics for some great resources that will engage your kids in reading and learning. Spending screen time on educational activities helps your child learn while they enjoy their tech time.


Dunckley, Victoria L. “Gray Matters: Too Much Screen Time Damages the Brain.” Psychology Today, February 27, 2014.

Uhls, Yalda T., Michikyan, Minas,  Jordan, Morris, Garcia, Debra, Small, Gary W., Zgourou, Eleni, Greenfield, Patricia M. “Five days at outdoor education camp without screens improves preteen skills with nonverbal emotion cues.” Computers in Human Behavior on Science Direct. Vol. 39, October 2014, Pages 387–392.


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