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Screen time and your child - managing the digital age

Updated: Jul 1, 2020

With computers, tablets and phones everywhere, screen time just seems to follow us. This can make it especially difficult to monitor and control your child's screen time. To complicate it further, some screen time is educational and required by your child's school. So how should we manage screen time?


The problem with screens

Unstructured, free playtime is much more important for your young child's developing brain, compared with it's electronic counterpart. When it comes to learning - children under the age of 2 are more likely to learn from something that happens to them or in front of them than they are to learn from a video or app. Children at this age can benefit from some types of screen time, such as with music, movement or stories, but still benefit further from a caregiver doing it with them to relate it to real life. Passive screen time at this age should never replace reading, playing or problem solving.


Too much or poor quality screen time has been linked to:

  • Delayed or poor motor skills - core strength, posture, coordination, grip strength, pincer grasp and fine motor skills

  • Obesity

  • Irregular sleep schedules and short duration of sleep

  • Poor ability to transition between tasks

  • Behavioural problems

  • Loss of social skills

  • Violence, frustration and difficulty with impulse control

  • Less time for play, reduced ability to engage in imaginative or creative play


Screen time rules

A one-size-fits-all approach won't work for everyone, however the current recommendations are as follows:

  1. No media use except for video chatting by children younger than 18 to 24 months.

  2. For children aged 2 to 5, limit screen time to an hour a day of high quality, educational programs (not games on a tablet)

  3. Set reasonable limits for older children, especially if their screen time is impacting on their other activities;

- Prioritise unplugged, unstructured playtime

- Have tech-free zones and times (such as at the dinner table)

- Set and enforce daily/weekly screen time limits

- Restrict electronic device use in the hour before bedtime, and all devices are stored in a neutral location (i.e. not in the child's bedroom)

- Use apps and devices that help you to monitor and control screen time

- Limit your own screen time so that you can set an example to your child


To ensure good quality screen time, it's important that you consider:

  • Previewing games/apps and shows before allowing your child to have them

  • Seek out interactive options that engage your child, rather than just require swiping/pushing of buttons (we have an exciting post about OT approved apps coming soon!)

  • Use parental controls

  • Supervise your child during screen time

Teaching appropriate and safe online behaviour

For adolescents, online relationships and social media are huge. And for parents it's plain scary! Some tips and tricks for navigating this mine field include;

  1. Explain what's appropriate and what's not (sexting, cyberbullying, sharing personal information)

  2. Teach your child not to share or send anything online that they wouldn't want the entire world to see (once it's on the internet it's out there forever!)

  3. Make sure you have an open and honest relationship with your child. If you provide them with a safe space to share their secrets and concerns, they are more likely to come to you when they are in trouble - and this is key.


See: https://www.theottoolbox.com/research-on-screen-time-for-kids for research on screen time!

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