Once upon a time, many parents worried that their children were spending too much time sitting in front of the television and games consoles, when they should be getting on with homework or out exploring the world.

With new technology comes new and smaller screens to add to the worries for today’s parents. A recent survey carried out on behalf of Legal & General found that almost 50% of parents are worried that their children are too reliant on phones and tablets, with a similar number believing screen time is affecting their child’s schoolwork.

Small screens that you can carry around with you will happily eat up even more time than the static screens at home, and they’re tailor-made to tap in to the curiosity of young children.

Are parents right to be worried?

Existing studies paint a more nuanced picture than some newspaper headlines might suggest. For instance, a 2017 Unicef report1 on the effects of digital technology on children found that:

  • it often had a positive impact on social relationships
  • its influence on mental well-being was minimal compared to family and socio-economic factors, though it can be a source of bullying and social pressures
  • when it came to physical activity, no direct connection between screen time and lack of exercise was found, other than children who were already relatively inactive were more likely to spend more time using digital devices.

As it stands in the UK, official UK guidance on screen time for children has been provided by the National Institute for Heath and Care Excellence (NICE), who recommend limiting it to two hours of leisure time per day for children of all ages.

How can you stay in control of your children’s screen time?

Sometimes, keeping your children to no more than two hours of screen time a day may seem daunting. To help, here are a few ways to keep your children’s screen time under control.

1. Add screen-free family times to your daily routine
Meal times are the most obvious opportunity to set a rule that screens stay off in favour of catching up with one another. Though, for younger children, a period before they go to bed can also be a good idea. And, once a week, you could make time to go out to do something fun together as a family, while leaving the phones at home.

2. Set a good example
Children learn from what you do, so if they see you constantly engrossed in your phone, they’re likely to question not being able to do the same. So, stay conscious of your own screen time and whether it’s affecting how much attention you give your children.

3. Make other options easily available
Screens aren’t the only way to have fun, and excessive screen time can often follow the declaration ‘I’m bored!’. So, tap into the other things your children like to do, and then make sure they have the means to do them freely – from footballs to books to paints to bikes.

4. Make use of parental control technology
There are various apps on the market that allow you to keep on top of your children’s screen time. One of the most popular, Screen Time, can be used with Apple and Android phones, and allows you to monitor and manage the amount of time your children spend on their devices, all from your own phone. You can find out more at https://screentimelabs.com

1.Unicef, How does the time children spend using digital technology impact their mental well-being, social relationships and physical activity? – https://www.unicef-irc.org/publications/pdf/Children-digital-technology-wellbeing.pdf