How to limit screen time for children

Screen time – one of the many headaches of modern day parenting. The kids can’t get enough of it – meanwhile we parents know that too much screen time is detrimental to their mental, physical and emotional well-being. So the question on everyone’s lips these days, that parents are desperately sweating bullets over is: how to limit screen time for children?

I can’t admit to knowing the answers here, but thankfully Amanda, mumpreneur and founder of  Time Tokens, a system that helps children aged 5-9 to limit and self regulate their OWN screen time – does. I went ahead and picked her brain on how to limit screen time for children for everyone who is wondering whether there’s a way of doing this peacefully…

Firstly, Why do you feel it’s important to limit screen time for children?

I feel it’s important because there’s so much evidence around the negative impact too much screen time has on children’s emotional, physical and mental health, you really have to bury your head in the sand to ignore it.   I’m sure a majority of parents see the evidence for themselves, it’s not difficult – Try removing an iPad from an 8 year old after 30 mins!

Children need time to have fun away from screens, being active and developing the skills necessary to grow into resilient, confident, happy and well balanced adults – those skills don’t just come from looking at an iPad!  It would be lovely if they did.  Screens are no substitute for real life play and social interaction.

Have you experienced your own battles when it comes to children and screen time? If so, please could you share?

Yes, when my son Harry was 7 we had terrible battles over the iPad, removing him from it became a daily source of stress.  Parents often find themselves in a no win situation when it comes to screen time. Saying “NO” and removing screens can often end in confrontation but keeping the peace and turning a blind eye means you are left feeling like you’re not being a responsible parent.

It was the constant battles and the fact there was no product on the market to help solve the problem that inspired Harry and I to put our heads together and create TimeTokens.

Why is it important not to totally forbid screen time in your view?

Our children are digital natives, whether you like it or not they are going to be growing up in an environment surrounded by technology; friends, school, home, everywhere they turn. For me prohibition never works, as tech will be a major part of their future, much better to teach your child to use it sensibly, the pros and cons and most importantly instil the self- control to turn it off!

Can you talk about ways to limit screen time that work, and how to execute them?

  • Create screen free areas in your home (especially bedrooms)
  • Screen-free meal times give you the chance to chat, catch up on your day etc
  • Model good behaviour as parents – try not to scroll while watching tv etc.
  • Don’t take the iPad out with you, put a small collection of fun things like stickers, paper, pens, small cars, Lego people (or for older children card games, Uno is big hit with our family), in a bag by the front door and take that with you for entertainment.
  • Family game night (my fave) all put your tech away and get out the board game

What changes do you see in children when screen time is limited effectively?

My son’s negative behaviour changed overnight.  He was instantly happier, less argumentative, played with his toys more, communicated better and was just generally a much happier, calmer boy.  Now he’s 11, I see the benefits even more, as, although he loves his screen time, he knows when he’s had enough and is able to walk away from it.

His contemporaries just don’t seem to have the same ability, won’t do their homework, stay up late on tech.  Their parents are having much bigger battles and the problems are far worse than if they had limited screen time at an early age. I think parents who have found a healthy balance would agree that their children seem happier, play more, are more active, more able to focus and sleep better.

Do you think it’s best to be flexible, or have a plan when it comes to limiting screen time?

I think a bit of both. It’s sensible to have a media plan/rules you stick to week in week out, children love structure and boundaries it makes them feel secure.  But life does not always run to plan, so you need to be flexible too.

Once you have locked down screen time at home, how can you stop them from sneaking screen time elsewhere?

If you managed to lock down screen time at home you’re doing a good job!  Try making a very simple media plan that works at home but is also easy for grandparents to follow.  Chat with other parents and find out what they allow so you know what to expect from a play date.  With older children it’s helpful to agree some basic ground rules with their friends parents so everyone is on the same page i.e. no phones in bedrooms, agree games that are off limits, tech curfew etc

And how do parents fit into all this? Shouldn’t we be modelling limiting screen time too?

Yes definitely, we should be aware of our own screen time habits as an influence on our children. For instance maybe we don’t need to check our emails whilst making dinner or read a text when we see the screen light up.

But it’s a balance.  Ultimately we are the adults, our brains are fully formed whereas a child’s is not fully developed until they hit their late teens.  Also we are also the parents, Just because your child see’s you doing something it doesn’t give them the automatic right to copy you – for example they don’t expect to drive your car or drink alcohol!

If you were to give a pep talk to my readers who were currently locked in screen time battles it would be….

I would say I feel your pain!  It’s really hard to be parent, especially in such a tech/screen orientated world.  But it’s never too late to take action.  Take back control around your child’s screen time use, put some boundaries in place and take it day by day, very soon you will see a positive and rewarding change.

Anything else you’d like to add?

We recently finished a government led pilot scheme with TimeTokens in selected Primary schools in West London.  The children and families involved have been amazing and it’s been a real inspiration to see the transformation in their lives.

The results have been stunning and completely out performed anyone’s expectations and I hope will help inform other local authorities how vital it is to give families and children the tools to learn a healthy screen time balance.

Are you currently locked in screen time battles? What do you think of the advice above? Do share in a comment below.



  1. I’ve got all this to come! My eldest daughter is only 3 years old, so she doesn’t really have much screen time yet. x

  2. We have a set time limit otherwise the kids moods are really affected – I find that the trade off of outdoor time and screen time really works

  3. I have to be honest and say I don’t limit screen time here. However, the kids aren’t allowed to use their devices at the dinner table or upstairs after 8pm. And that seems to be working for us so far. Generally, they only use them for an hour or so after dinner 🙂

    Louise x

  4. I just limited my daughters screen time to the recommended maximum one hour a day with the parental control feature. It limits also in which hours of the day they can spend their screen hour (no at night, meals, homeworks and an hour before bedtime).
    It’s plenty of apps to limit screen time, they are so useful to avoid screen addiction and to leave time for much more healthy activities. Since it’s a preset automatic thing there are no more arguments and it really helps them to learn to manage their time, I can’t imagine doing without these any more!

  5. Really interesting to hear different people’s attitudes towards screen time and how it plays out in their homes – thanks for commenting everybody! x

  6. Very modern, and relative. Technology may have some benefits, but there are also drawbacks. Use wisely. Aim to keep up to date, aim to keep safe, aim to maintain good wellbeing and good relationships.

    Challenge those responsible, and those in power (Government) to have technology safe, ethical, moral, appropriate for clients / customers / users. Neither individuals, groups or business should be able or enabled to exploit the public. Public Safety is an ISSUE. ACCOUNTABILITY!

  7. I don’t have children, but I imagine limiting screen time is hard for parents who probably struggle to get anything done if they didn’t have a distraction for the children. One thing I would say is that children should not be allowed screens at tables or in restaurants. They need to learn manners and how to behave in social situations.

  8. I don’t actually. I’m lucky to have kids that like to play outside and/or do arts and crafts rather than be on the iPad all the time.

  9. we don’t have that issue yet. will play it by ear, but will probably set times of some sort f needed

  10. It is a very sad sign of the times. Last December we went on a Butlins Xmas Tots break (so almost all the kids were under 5’s, as it was still in term time too) I could not believe breakfast time in the restaurant, there were roughly 100+ people eating and only 3 tables (including ours) WITHOUT a tablet in front of every person – kids AND adults, this is meant to be a family holiday and quality time with the kids, and at the dinner table, I was totally gobsmacked, makes me shudder in fear as all those kids will then become adults and think this is acceptable!

  11. Evie is only just turned 1 year old & all she wants is to look at anyone’s phone which is rather worrying! We are not encouraging her to do so but it is like she is already addicted to the screen.

  12. My kids are older so I have no power any more about how much screen time they use. But my Grandchildren have kindles (my eldest moved back in so they come here to see him) and I do get concerned about how long the 8 year old spends either on his kindle or PS4 but my 6 year old Granddaughter loves to colour & draw so screen time is not such a problem with her.

  13. I find it a battle and don’t set strict times but do let them have a relax on the ipad then tell them to switch it off and do something else for a while or we do an activity together. It gives them more sense of achievement throughout the day doing a bit of everything.

  14. We had to get a lock box for overnights, when my daughter was around 13, no matter the promises the phone would always be played with, and it was affecting her sleep! So the lock box came in!

  15. We don’t have a lot of screentime here. I think it helps limiting adult screentime in front of the kids, so setting them an example from when they are as young as possible.

  16. No specific limiting here, my eldest has severe autism so I find it really helps him to have the tablet there as he uses it to calm down. I take them away when they are getting dressed, eating and before bath time to help them settle to sleep better but they will self limit as well throughout the day.

  17. We have really tried to wean our kids off their tablets as they were so addicted to them and it was impacting them in a negative way. They now do a lot more arts and crafts and sometimes even forget to ask if they can play on their tablets for a while.

  18. My chilren would sit on a tablet for a long time if left ‘to their own devices’ as it were but fortunately they both just switch off and do something else when we ask them to.

  19. Really interesting 🙂 Thanks God, we are following most of what you said to control & limit the screen time for my kids.
    Frankly not usually 😀 but I am working on it with my husband.

  20. I’m not to strict on limiting screentime. As long as they still know how to communicate and behave when they don’t have it. I just ask that we eat together without gadgets.

  21. We have designated times where screen time is ok but we make sure to play with toys and play outside to restrict screen time

  22. I set timers on their devices , they do complain but they know that is it for the day when they go off

  23. I definitely struggle with my son, he is 9 and had autism so his tablet is a way he expresses himself and learns. I have to say he has learned a lot from it he’s like a human factfile! I struggle to find a balance sometimes and find myself confiscating it. My daughter is 7 and doesn’t have a tablet yet although she keeps asking for one x

  24. We have timers set to limit it I think its great that the tablets can be set to turn off themselves also to limit how long and also what apps etc.

  25. We don’t struggle as we only allow our little ones to play on a weekend with them once they have done all their homework. It’s also limited to an hour or so on those days

  26. I don’t struggle with screen time as I have set times when they can use their screens. They have always had these limits so don’t question them

  27. l think its essential to have a limit on screen time but l also think us ourselves putting phones away or tablets and having time away is a good example for children

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