Screen time for kids: How to set healthy screen time boundaries

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…

Why it’s important to limit screen time for children

I’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.

Why children need to take regular screen breaks

Research by mental health charity YoungMinds and the Government’s Cyber Aware campaign shows that over a fifth (21%) of young people spend more than 6 hours a day on their smartphones. However more than half of them (60%) agree that they would benefit from taking a short break from their smartphones. They instinctively seem to know that their smartphone use occupies too much of their time and they would benefit from a time out.

The research found that when forced to go without their smartphones over a third of young people (34%) felt anxious about what they were missing out on. It’s important to understand how different it is for young people growing up in this technology entwined world. For better or worse, life is played out online for them. At any moment a party or an outing could be organised in a group chat and there’s a real fear of missing out on social opportunities if they’re not constantly connected.

As parents we need to help guide our children to see the bigger picture and have a healthy relationship with technology – in turn this would hopefully help improve their wellbeing and social skills. Ecouraging young people to set their smartphones or tablets to one side for a short period before trying to sleep, and doing something else not involving technology, like taking a bath or reading for example, would give their minds a chance to really wind down and relax. That way they can rest properly ahead of the next day.

Common parent screen time battles

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.

Avoid totally forbidding screen time

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!

Ways to limit screen time that work

  • Create screen free areas and times in your home (especially bedrooms, at the dinner table, during homework)
  • Screen-free meal times give you the chance to chat, catch up on your day etc
  • Install apps that monitor and limit screen time
  • Model good behaviour as parents – try not to scroll while watching tv, when out as a family
  • 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.

Impact of limiting screen time on behaviour

Child who have screen time limits in place tend to be happier, less argumentative, play with toys more, communicate better and be calmer.  They are also better at self regulating, enjoying their screen time  but knowing when they have had enough. They are able to walk away from it.

Those who do not have screen time limits in place 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. more, are more active, more able to focus and sleep better.

Be flexible or plan?

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.

Keeping things consistent

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

Modelling healthy screen time habits

Parents 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.

Teaching age-appropriate behaviour and values

There are very many things that happen online. It is impossible for children to pick what is appropriate and helpful for them without guidance. Most of the times, curiosity leads them to no-go zones. As a parent, be vigilant. Most teens get entangled with addictive vices like sexting, pornography, and other online relationships. Others engage in cyberbullying.

Instil family values, beliefs, and appropriate behaviour in children helps them to know what you believe and expect from them, whether online or offline. Family values serve as a guide on what is acceptable or not. Children get to learn and implement healthy habits, whether supervised or not. While at it, ensure you live the talk as examples are more effective in parenting.

Take time and teach children about the dangers of too much screen time. It is crucial for them to understand dangers like online predators, violent games, and the health issues associated with excess interactions with screens. Ensure they know the importance of healthy interactions, and they should never share or send anything online that they do not wish the world to see. Unless they understand the dangers of the screen time, get your gloves on, and be ready for eternal war.

Screen time quality

There is a lot of excellent and educative content on the screens. All you need to do is pick age appropriate and helpful programs. You may have to preview games, apps, and programs before allowing your children access. Interactive options that engage the child are better than the ones that require swiping and pushing or staring.

Watching programs or playing with them is another excellent way of bonding. Besides improving your relationship, getting involved allows you to teach your child. You can educate them on the commercials, advertising, or what the program teaches. Point out inappropriate scenes or language that they should refrain from, in case such occurs.

Have parental controls for content filtering and blocking in case their curiosity leads them to the no-go zones.

When your tweens or teens are big enough to have phones, ensure that you educate them on the cost implications of data use and App stores. Unless you have a massive budget for data, letting them use data without control will make you broke. Even with jobs, excess spending on data and Apps are financially unhealthy habits.

There are several organizations which you can consult to help you determine appropriate apps, programs, or games. Since you can never know everything, ask whenever possible.

Summing up

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.

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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