Screen time for school-age children
Screen time for school-age children is about choosing quality programs and apps and developing healthy screen habits.
Child development experts also recommend limiting children’s daily screen time. Screen time limits can help lower the risks of screen time for your child, which include physical, developmental, safety and other risks.
For children aged six years and older, the most recent guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) say that there should be consistent limits on the time they spend on electronic media and the types of media they use. It’s also important to make sure that screen time doesn’t take the place of sleep and activities like physical play, reading, creative play like drawing, and social time with family and friends.
When you help your child combine good-quality media choices with healthy screen habits and screen time limits, she’ll be set up to make the most of screen time now and in the future.
Why screen time quality is important
Screens are a part of life for most children aged 6-11 years.
If you’re thinking about whether your child should watch YouTube or play on a tablet, here’s a key question to ask: is this program, video or app good quality? Good-quality media can support your child’s learning, especially if it ties in with his interests, sparks his imagination or ties into something he’s learning at school.
For example, a seven-year-old can get a lot out of spending 30 minutes creating an animation on a screen. This develops her problem-solving skills as she maps out the events in the storyline. It’s much better than if she spends 30 minutes watching online animations that advertise and sell toys.
Choosing good-quality apps and games for school-age children
Good-quality apps or games for school-age children:
- encourage creativity – for example, by encouraging children to draw or create content like video clips, animations or comics
- encourage problem-solving – for example, by taking children through the possible results of virtual science experiments
- help develop communication skills – for example, by helping children learn other languages
- help develop social skills – for example, by encouraging children to take turns in games.
Other practical things to think about include:
- age range – it’s a good idea to check that the age range for an app or game matches your child’s age
- advertising – be wary of apps that feature movie characters or popular products, because these apps are often designed to promote movies and products
- privacy settings – check the terms and conditions to see whether and how apps collect data and make sure you’re comfortable with what data will be collected, and what it will be used for.
Choosing good-quality TV programs, movies and videos for school-age children
Good-quality TV programs, movies and videos for school-age children:
- have positive messages about relationships, family and life – avoid those that make violence or bad attitudes look good
- inspire new off-screen play ideas for children once they’ve finished watching
- have good stories, like those that involve characters treating each other fairly – avoid programs that are just about selling promotional toys, apps and gear
- are age appropriate – for example, the themes of some movies are too mature for school-age children.
Healthy screen time habits for school-age children
Developing healthy screen time habits is an important part of making the most of screen time. If your child keeps working on healthy screen time habits in the primary school years, these habits will help him make better choices about how to use his free time when he’s older.
Here’s how you can reinforce these habits with your school-age child.
Role-modelling healthy screen time habits
Your child learns screen time habits from you. This means you can model healthy screen habits by using screens in the way you want your child to use them – for example, by switching your phone off during dinner, or turning the TV off when you’ve finished watching a program.
You can also set a good example by not always using technology to keep your child entertained in situations like long car journeys or while waiting at the hairdressers. Try mixing it up with things like playing ‘I spy’ or drawing. When you know you’re going to be in these situations, you could try packing an activity bag with puzzles, books, drawing materials and so on.
Playing on a device in boring situations will usually distract your child, but it can mean your child misses an opportunity to learn social skills like how to act in public, or how to manage boredom in creative ways. It can also mean your child ends up relying too much on technology for something to do.
Teaching your child about quality screen time
Together with your child, you can talk about whether the videos or apps your child wants to watch or play are good quality and safe for her. As your child gets older encourage her to tell you why she thinks an app is good quality when she asks you to install it.
And if you sometimes play or watch with your child, you can remind him to think about what’s on the screen rather than just passively watching. For example, you can ask questions like:
- ‘How do you play this game?’ and ‘What happens when you move there?’
- ‘What would happen if you did what that character did?’
- ‘Why do you think this app has in-app purchases?’
- ‘What’s the point of this YouTube video?’ and ‘Why is the person showing that product?’.
Balancing screen time with other activities
Screen time can be a fun experience for your child. But it’s important to balance screen time with other activities that are essential for your child’s development. These include physically active play, creative play like solving puzzles and drawing, and conversation with family and friends.
You can help your child find this balance by working together on some family rules about technology use. You could talk about who the rules apply to and whether they’re fair to everyone in the family. Rules might cover:
- limits on screen time that take into account family events and routines – for example, your child might have more screen time on the weekend, or extra time to video-chat with a grandparent who’s travelling overseas
- areas where your child can use devices – for example, you might decide they can be used only in family rooms and not in bedrooms or the car
- times when devices can and can’t be used – for example, you might have a family rule that mealtimes are free of TV, computers and phones, or that there’s no screen time until your child has finished chores or homework.
It can help to create a family media plan for everyone in the family. Your plan could cover things like screen-free areas in your house, screen-free times, and programs and apps that are OK for your child to use.
You can also encourage your child to do some physical activity outside or look for entertainment options that don’t involve screens – for example, board or card games.
Managing screen time
One of the best ways to manage screen time is to encourage your child to make choices about her screen time within your family’s agreed limits. This gives your child the chance to put her healthy screen habits into practice.
You can help your child by looking together at how much screen time your child needs for school-related tasks and how much he can spend on things like watching YouTube, or playing apps and video games. It’s also good for your child to think about when he’ll spend time connecting with family and friends, playing sport and doing other off-screen things.
You’ll probably also need to remind your child when screen time is about to finish. Let your child know the time is nearly up and encourage her to use the remaining time to save what she’s doing.
Sometimes your child might break the rules you’ve agreed. For example, your child might take the tablet to his bedroom when you’ve agreed he can use it only in the family room, or he might spend longer on the computer than you’ve agreed. You can plan some consequences for these situations. For example, you might agree with your child that the consequence for breaking the screen time rules is no screen time for a day.
Another way to deal with this is by helping your child to develop strategies that stop her from breaking the rules – for example, she could set a timer that lets her know when screen time is over.
Monitoring screen time
It’s best to avoid using surveillance apps that let you secretly monitor your child’s online activity because this sends the message that you don’t trust your child. It’s better to talk openly about your own screen time use and encourage your child to do the same.
This helps you understand what your child gets out of screen time.