If you’re reading this and your child is playing outside (by choice) without a screen in sight, well done. While adults can self-manage themselves with these devices’ daily use, children need guidance and boundaries. It’s all too easy for kids to end up spending hours in front of a device, and we’ve got to be smarter on how we ensure they don’t overdo it. 

A rather eye-popping statistic by Common Sense Media reported that almost half of all kids 8 and under in the US have their own tablet. That in itself sounds incredibly high. But wait until you learn the average amount of hours per day they’re spending on the tablet – 2.25! Again, if you have a 7-year-old who’s constructing a fort in the backyard and doesn’t own a tablet, good for you. But if you plucked 10 random kids off the street, 8 and under, and asked how many had their own tablet (and spend at least 2 hours per day looking at it), the number is shocking.

So what does all this mean? Are our kids going to turn into zombie screen consumers, incapable of relating to fellow human beings and doomed for a life of loneliness and despair? The answer is no, but it’s a “no” with an asterisk – we need to limit their screen time.   

Why Should You Limit Your Child’s Screen Time?

Why should you care about limiting your child's screen time?

So now that we recognize screen time is an issue, we know this battle with the little ones isn’t going to be easy. However, the reasons for reducing your child’s screen time are compelling enough to want to do something about it.

Self-regulation is an area that’s often discussed in the childhood mental health community. There are three major components to self-regulation: cognitive, emotional, and physiological. Cognitive regulation refers to remaining attentively focused, emotional regulation is aligned with being able to recover when upset, while physiological regulation involves managing actions and behaviors. All three components take practice. We’re not born mastering any of these three, and excessive screen time can greatly interfere in a child’s ability to develop these skills.

For example, if the response to a situation that induces anger is to turn to the tablet and watch a YouTube channel, that is a dependent reaction. Like drugs and alcohol, instead of using the body or brain to calm yourself, turning to substances (or a screen) generates an unhealthy dependence on an outside factor. The same occurs when children are building their language skills. Children absorb information from the screen, but do not interact back. It’s easy to fall into a type of trance with too much screen time as the act of watching requires minimal to no effort.

As a parent, you can lead by example. In our current climate, most adults are also heavy screen users. But encouraging more face-to-face interaction instead of merely taking the screen away can be quite helpful. The act of taking something away from a child creates a negative feeling. While you’re effectively reducing their screen time, neither you nor they feel positive about the situation.

Instead, the hours that you set aside for family activities or simply non-screen time activities should be filled with interaction with people or projects. This gives your child the opportunity and space to work on those self-regulation skills. 

How Does Too Much Screen Time Affect a Child’s Brain?

How does too much screen time affect a child's brain?

This is an area that’s being actively studied as we write. Screens have always been prevalent, but tablets and smartphones have not. And while excessive screen time in front of any screen isn’t great, tablets and smartphones can really exacerbate the negative side-effects. A landmark study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) indicated that children who were on their screens for two-plus hours per day scored lower on thinking and language tests. Even worse, those who logged seven hours per day experienced a thinning of the brain’s cortex.

The findings are not easy to digest, especially if you’re a parent doing the mental calculations regarding your own child’s screen time. Pediatricians and other medical professionals are still processing these findings and are engaged in studies to track the long-term effects. But the medical community does agree that fostering healthy relationships with other children via creativity and imagination, and engaging in outdoor activities is compromised with excessive screen-time.

Language development kicks in between 1.5 and 3 years of age. Numerous studies demonstrate that interaction with adults, safe play and the general observation of people (not screens) is critical to language development. Prominent studies of the 60s and 70s on the effects of excessive TV viewing have shown that children later on in elementary school perform less well on a host of tests, reading especially, and also demonstrate deficits in attention. There is a clear medical correlation, but let’s talk about some tips you can put into practice today.     

How to Reduce Screen Time

Tips on how to reduce your child's screen time.

Hopefully we haven’t scared you into thinking your kids are doomed; they’re not. We’re going to touch on some practical tips you can use, and the first are “technology-free zones.” Technology-free zones are areas in your home where electronics are not allowed; an example could be the dining room or the kitchen. These are areas where natural, family conversation occurs. By declaring these technology-free, that also means parents need to abide.

Another great tip is to make screen time a privilege. Some of the products we’ll review shortly are aligned with making screen time a privilege. Kids can accomplish pre-defined tasks and earn extra time based on their behavior. And lastly, try making your child’s bedroom screen-free. Stop shaking your head, we know this isn’t easy, but hear us out.

A screen-free bedroom will do wonders to get them to bed at night and associate their autonomous space with silence and tranquility. The first week will be absolute horror, but once implemented, a bedroom free of screens is the healthiest long-term outcome possible.

The Children’s Screen Time Action Network has more tips and information on reducing screen time with your kids.

Fun Parent Helpers for Limiting Screen Time

TimeTokens – The Fun and Simple Pack to Limit Your Child’s Screen Time

Time Tokens to help limit your child's screen time.

When it comes to limiting screen time, the worst scenario for any parent is a fight; nobody wins in a battle for screen time. You end up with a sulking 8-year-old and a stressed out 38-year-old. TimeTokens recognizes this and came up with tokens that kids can earn and spend in exchange for screen time.

For example, parents establish chores in the house where kids can earn tokens. The tokens are then redeemed for screen time. This can work across any device (tablet, TV, smartphone, or game console). There is a timer included, however some reviewers commented on the obnoxious sound, but the idea is fantastic and parents really seem to love this set.

Love it? Click here to buy now.

Limit Your Dragon’s Screen Time Book for Kids by Steve Herman

Limit Your Dragon's Screen Time by Steve Herman.

A word of caution – this series of books is highly addictive for kids. Who doesn’t love a pet dragon? If Game of Thrones taught us anything, it’s that dragons are always cool and rarely go out of style. Author Steve Herman has come up with a real winner here. He states in the book, “Just what would you do if your dragon is addicted to a smartphone?”

These are great questions to pose to kids in a story setting as it gets them thinking about a pet they love. Granted, a pet dragon is not residing in your home, but kids tend to transport themselves into books, and what’s good for the dragon (less screen time) is ultimately good for them. Herman’s books get kids thinking about positive and negative consequences and do so in the funnest way possible. A definite recommendation for all parents of kids 4 to 8.

To learn more, click here.

Timmy’s Monster Diary: Screen Time Stress Mindfulness Book for Kids

Timmy's Monster Diary: Screen Time Stress book for kids.

Dr. Raun D. Melmed is a developmental and behavioral pediatrician and the co-founder of the Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center in Scottsdale, Arizona. Dr. Melmed has authored numerous books, but Timmy’s Monster Diary might be the top fan favorite. Following our monster theme, Timmy is a gregarious monster who is absolutely glued to the latest gadgets and video games. The problem is he can’t seem to control himself and that gets Timmy into some compromising positions.

Kids learn why Timmy is so prone to get distracted and connect the dots to screen time and the adverse, long-term effects. The book also contains a helpful resource section with reminders that both parents and kids can remove and place around the home to remind them of screen time use. Dr. Melmed is the creator of the ST4 method which is front and center in his books. This technique teaches kids to be mindful and observe their surroundings. It’s dynamic and a wonderful way to impart beneficial teachings in a fun way.

To read reviews, click here.

Timeout Toy Box, Kids Screen Time Management

Timeout Toy Box for kids' screen time management.

Another rewards set, the Timeout Toy Box is a motivational tool parents can use with their children when it comes to controlling screen time. Children of all ages earn rewards by hitting their pre-defined goals, and they also learn the valuable lesson of consequences when they don’t. The pre-printed tokens are used to incentivize the completion of assigned tasks. As the tasks are completed, the tokens are flipped to display a bright green checkmark.

The actual box is colorful, bright, and constructed of sturdy materials. The sides are clear so kids can see what’s inside, and the pegs can handle up to 12 hanging “timeout” or “bonus” tags. Once a task is complete the built-in drawer stores the used tags and tokens. The Timeout Toy Box brings some much needed fun to limiting screen time. 

To see pricing, click here.

Cami and Wyatt Have Too Much Screen Time Book for Kids by Stacy Bauer

Cami and Wyatt Have Too Much Screen Time book for kids.

We all understand why the concept of family time is important, but everyday life sometimes gets in the way. Cami and Wyatt Kangaroo are energetic kangaroos that most kids can relate to. Nobody enjoys a lethargic kangaroo, so Cami and Wyatt really turn up the energy in this book.

While energetic, however, Cami and Wyatt love their screen time. Throughout the book messages of the importance of family time, why it’s more fun than merely staring at a screen, and why breaking bad habits will make you a more responsible and happy adult are sprinkled throughout. Online reviews are nearly all 4 and 5 stars, and most comment that they’ve read this book multiple times as Cami and Wyatt never get old. 

Love it? Click here to buy now.

To Sum It Up

Don’t feel bad if you’re struggling in this area. Previous generations dealt with TV screen time, and perhaps radio time might have been an issue before that. Whatever the device, there will always be distractions that we need to teach our kids to self-regulate. Screen time today is real and a struggle for many parents, but it doesn’t have to be.

We reviewed why limiting screen time is so important, the negative effects of too much screen time, and some tools nearly every parent can implement for achieving a more screen-free home. We then touched on five exceptional products that can help in this process. Your kids will likely push back on most of this, but that’s normal. They can’t possibly process the potential, long-term effects of zoning out on YouTube all day. Lucky for them you’ve read this article and now have it bookmarked!