How Much Screen Time is Too Much?

By Caroline Knorr

The digital world is here to stay, and that means it’s no secret that today’s children face different challenges than previous generations. Homework? Submit it online. School project? Create a Google Doc. Need to practice your math or reading skills? There’s an app for that.

With the TV, computer, tablet, smartphone and other devices, kids are getting more media than ever before—about six to nine hours a day on average. So the notion of screen time as a one-dimensional activity is changing.

Multipurpose devices can be used for lots of things, ranging from passive consumption—like watching TV—to content creation, such as using devices to make digital art or music.

With more and more of your children’s lives being lived online, it can be hard for you to balance their digital lives with enriching experiences offline. The key to this balance is to stay involved and engaged in your kids’ media and tech worlds, emphasize the positives and share your values.

It’s all about knowing which types of screen time are better than others—and knowing when it’s time to put the screens down.

The Too Much Screen Time Red Flags

Too much screen time has been shown to negatively impact kids’ health, development and overall well-being. Here are a few signs that your child may be getting too much screen time.

  • Background TV: When the TV is on all the time and no one is really watching it. This has been shown to negatively impact young children’s language development. A background TV interferes with kids’ and parents’ communications—talking, playing and interacting—and these are all super important for a child’s overall development.
  • TVs in the Bedroom: Just the presence of a TV in the bedroom has been shown to negatively impact a child’s ability to get a good night’s sleep. Bedroom TVs have also been linked to obesity.
  • Digital Devices in the Bedroom: The blue light emitted from electronic devices reduces the amount and quality of a kid’s sleep.

The Multitasking Menace

Many teens and tweens use media while studying or doing homework—and most think it has no effect on the quality of their work. In fact, while doing homework, 50% of teens use social media, 51% watch TV, 60% text and 75% listen to music.

However, studies have shown that dividing their attention by multitasking negatively impacts the academic performance of children. This is because kids have to re-focus their attention every time they look away from their homework to, say, change the song they’re listening to, or to text a friend.

Addiction to things like video games and social media are real problems and it’s unclear exactly how these addictions may be triggered by screen time (that’s an area Common Sense is studying now).

The reality is that screen time is here to stay. Most families will go through periods of light and heavy media use, but as long as there’s a balance, kids should be just fine.

Need help setting screen time boundaries with your kids? It’s time for The Smart Talk.

Are some types of screen time better than others?

Surprisingly, yes! Find out more

Caroline Knorr is the senior parenting editor at Common Sense Media. She and her teenage son live in the San Francisco Bay area.

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