Screen time management strategies

Screen time can be part of a healthy lifestyle for children when it’s balanced with other activities. But this isn’t always easy to achieve.

That’s why you might need some strategies for managing screen time and screen use. For children aged 3-11 years, screen time management strategies might include:

  • family rules
  • routines
  • transitions
  • choices.

Family rules for screen time and screen use

Family rules about screen time can help your child understand your family’s limits and expectations.

Here are some questions to help you negotiate screen time and screen use in your family:

  • Do you want guidelines about screen time hours? What about weekends, holidays, ‘binge days’ and tech-free days?
  • When can children use screens? For example, not until after homework, or not during meal times? Does your child need to ask you first?
  • Where can children use screens? For example, in family rooms but not bedrooms?

Making the rules
It’s important to involve all family members when you’re making family rules about screen use. Your rules should be flexible enough to cover school days, weekends and holidays. The rules also need to take into account your child’s changing needs and interests as he grows.

It’s a good idea to revisit the rules every few months and whenever you introduce a new device into your home. This helps you ensure the rules are still meeting everyone’s needs.

Breaking the rules
Sometimes your child might break the rules you’ve agreed on. For example, your child might play on the tablet without asking first. You can plan some consequences for these situations. For example, the consequence for using the tablet without asking might be no tablet for a day.

Routines and screen time

Routines help children know what to do, when and how often. This means routines can help you build screen time into your family life in a way that suits you.

For example, if you want to put time limits on screen time, you can make this part of a routine. You might decide your child can watch TV or use her tablet, but only between 5 and 6 pm. Or your routine might include just one program before dinner, or whatever suits your family.

Routines can also help you minimise conflict about screen use. For example, if you don’t want your child to use screens in the car, you might have a car routine that involves listening to music or playing ‘I spy’ before your child reads a book.

Screen time transitions

Your child might find it hard to stop watching TV or playing on his tablet, especially if he’s having a good time. Planning transitions from screen time to other activities can make things easier.

Here are some tips:

  • Set your child’s expectations about a screen time session before the session starts. You could say, ‘You can watch one program’, or ‘You can watch until it’s bath time’.
  • Choose your timing. If you can, get your child to stop using digital media at a natural break. For example, try to plan bath time for when your child has finished a level in a game, or at the end of a TV program.
  • Give your child a warning when it’s almost time to stop. For example, ‘Sam, it’s time to switch the TV off at the end of the program’, or ‘Sam, you have five more minutes on the tablet’.
  • Give your child time to save what she’s doing. You could offer to help – for example, you might say, ‘Ali, it’s time to stop on the computer now. Do you want me to help you save what you’re doing?’

Choices about screen use

If your child has choices about his screen use as well as input into your family’s screen time rules, he’s more likely to cooperate with the rules and limits.

Also, making choices from a range of healthy and high-quality options helps your child learn how to manage screen time independently in the future.

You could offer your child choices about:

  • what to watch or do – for example, ‘Do you want to watch Play School or Sesame Street today?’ or ‘Do you want to work on your animation or play your puzzle app?’
  • when to use screens – for example, ‘Do you want to have your screen time after school or after dinner today?’
  • how to break up screen time – for example, ‘Do you want to use a timer, or take a break when you finish the level?’ or ‘Are you going to jog on the spot or do star jumps when you finish the level?’

One of the keys is encouraging your child to make choices about screen use based on quality. To do this you can:

  • talk with your child about good-quality content
  • ask your child whether she thinks she’s making good choices.

Good-quality apps, games, YouTube, TV and movies for preschoolers and good-quality apps, games, YouTube, TV and movies for school-age children can support your child’s learning and encourage positive behaviour.