The screen time rules every family needs to know

Last modified on Tuesday 23 November 2021

A total ban on screen time isn't realistic for most families, but what rules SHOULD we be following?

There's bags of advice out there for parents when it comes to screen time and the limits we should stick to, but not everybody agrees and some guidelines are, dare we say it, just not realistic if you've got an urgent work email to answer and a child who needs entertaining.

Most experts advise parents to stick to no screen time at all for under 2s, but Ghislaine Bombusa from Internet Matters says that it is not that clear cut.

She says:

‘Two years old is the age that is typically quoted in the guidelines, but I think it’s really down to the parents to make this decision. They are best placed to say how the device might be helping their children to develop key skills, or whether it is holding them back.

‘I think the key thing for parents is really to be aware of what they're doing during the time that they're on their devices and make sure it's balanced, so that they're not doing just one activity but having a varied media diet.’

If you're wondering what else to keep in mind while your children are glued to their tablet, we've put together this guide to the screen time rules every parent should follow.

1. Not all screen time is equal

Life as a parent would, perhaps, be more straightforward if you could just stick screens in the 'bad' pile and ban them completely.

But you cannot escape the fact that devices and screens are a huge part of all our lives, and not all screen time should be seen as the technology equivalent of junk food.

Scrolling mindlessly through Insta is not in the same camp as learning a new skill using a specialised app, for example.

So make sure your child gets a mix of activity that includes creativity and education as well as connecting with friends and family and simply watching videos or playing games.

2. Lead by example

Telling your child they're not allowed to spend too long on Minecraft while never dragging your eyes away from your own Facebook feed is not going to help teach them how they should behave.

You need to set the tone and you might even break your own Candy Crush habit in the process.

Practising what you preach might be tough, but it will make it much easier to enforce, and will also free up more time to do something more rewarding with the family, such as playing a board game or even cooking a meal together.

3. Have screen-free zones

Kids like consistency – it makes rules much easier to understand (and more likely to be followed).

So it makes sense to have some places, or times of the day, where screens are NEVER allowed. You might be on the receiving end of a lot of whinging and moaning at first, but if these rules are non-negotiable, your family should soon accept them.

Ghislaine from Internet Matters has these suggestions:

  • No screens before bedtime is a good idea – and don’t have devices charging in the bedroom either, to avoid the temptation.
  • Avoid during mealtimes too, if you're sitting down as a family you can really interact with each other if it is a device-free zone. Put the devices down and have those one-to-one conversations.

4. Draw up a family agreement

Hot on the heels of the screen-free zones is the family agreement.

This is particularly good for older kids, but can also be used with younger children too, so that they know what is and isn't allowed – and what the consequences are if they break the rules.

The agreement can cover which apps or games they are allowed to use as well as more detailed things, such as whether they are allowed to use chat functions within games or accept friend requests.

5. Don't let screens take over

If your child would rather stare at a tablet or games console than do pretty much anything else, then you need to have a think about how much screen time they are getting.

Screen time IS enjoyable, of course it is, but it shouldn't be getting in the way of actual life.

Ghislaine says:

'Screens shouldn't interfere with other activities like homework or sleep – are they going to school tired? Is being on a device literally all they want to do? Do they get upset and emotional if you take it away? Those are the things you really need to be aware of.’

So if your little one is having a tantrum every time you switch the telly off, you need to nip this in the bud.

6. Don't use screens as a reward

This is a tricky one as it is so tempting to promise your child some time on the tablet as an incentive to get their homework done or tidy their room, but it probably won't help in the long run.

Using anything as a reward, whether that's sweets or screens, will make it seem special and it becomes even more sought-after.

Remember, kids use screens from an early age at school, so really they're not that special to them(!)

7. Teach them independence

You won't be able to monitor every single thing they do online or every single TV show they watch, particularly as they get older.

Sure, you can control what they can and can't do using parental controls or other restrictions, but you also need to teach them how cope without your input.

‘There are loads of tools and controls that you can apply to devices, but aside from that we recommend regular check-ins, bite-sized conversations, about online safety with your child and make them part of the day,' says Ghislaine.

8. Follow them on social media – and tell them that you're going to

Most social media platforms have a minimum age of 13 and there are many reasons for this – not least the direct messaging functions and the fact that people aren't always who they say they are.

When your kids are old enough to join TikTok or Snapchat, you'll need to have plenty of convos about the potential dangers and pitfalls, and it's also a good idea to follow them at first.

Ghislaine says:

'Particularly as children get older, trust needs to be built and they need to be shown how to make the right decisions. You can say “I do want to follow you on your social media just to be aware of what you're doing and when I can trust you, then I'll come off it.”

'Just like when a child starts to ride a bike, you're with them in the beginning, but eventually, they can ride by themselves.’

9. Let them know you're there

There will be some huge clues if your child's screen time is having a negative impact on them and they need to know they can ask for your help if needed.

They might think they're an expert in all things online, but they might not have the emotional tools to deal with any problems that arise.

Ghislaine says:

'Make sure they know that they can come to you for advice. We see children who fall into these gaps, having a hard time as they try to deal with issues themselves, and they may not know where to go for help.

'Let them know that you're here to help. You're not going to shame them if something goes wrong.’

Time Tokens are a clever way and easy system to monitor, track and limit your child's screen time. See more details here at Amazon.

Do you have screen time rules in your house? What works for your family? Let us know on the chat thread below...

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