By the time they start school, most kids spend a lot of time with devices like TVs, computers, tablets, and smartphones.

    Kids need to use these devices for school, getting assignments, doing homework, or researching school projects. But they also spend a lot of free time watching TV shows, streaming videos, using social media and apps, and playing games.

    School-aged kids also need time for other activities, like exercise, screen-free playtime, time with friends and family, and sleep. That’s why parents should figure out a balance between time their kids spend in front of a screen and time they spend doing other things.

    How Much Is Too Much?

    Parents should decide what media use limits make sense, considering their child's age, health, and personality. They should talk with their child about their media use and stay aware of what they do online.

    Media use includes entertainment (like watching TV or playing video games), social media platforms, and education (like researching a school report on the Internet). Not all media use is the same. For instance, time spent on homework or other educational activities might not need to be as restricted as time spent playing games or on social media.

    It's up to parents to decide how and when their kids use media. For kids of all ages, media use should not replace time needed for sleeping, eating, playing, studying, and interacting with family and friends.

    Media Use Tips

    The same parenting rules apply to media use as to anything else — set a good example, establish limits, and talk with your child about it.

    To make your child's media use more productive:

    • Encourage kids to be involved in a variety of free-time activities, like spending time with friends, creating art projects, or reading. Make sure your child is physically active every day and gets enough sleep.
    • Turn off devices during meals and at least 1 hour before bedtime. Keep devices out of your child's bedroom. Also, turn off entertainment media when kids are doing homework.
    • Research video and computer games before getting them for your child. Look at the ratings, which can run from E (for "everyone") to AO (meaning "adults only"). Younger kids in grade school should probably be limited to games rated E (for "everyone"). E10+ (meaning "everyone 10 and older") may be appropriate for older kids. Preview games and even play them with your child to see what they're like before you let your child play alone. The game's rating may not match what you feel is OK for your child.
    • Spend time together with your child watching TV, playing games, or going online. Use this time as a chance to talk and learn together.
    • Keep the computer in a common area where you can watch what's going on. Teach your child about safe Internet and social media use. Make sure they know the dangers of sharing private information online, cyberbullying, and sexting.
    • Set a good example. Turn off TVs and other devices when not in use. Turn off or mute your phone when you’re not using it and during family times, like meals.

    These online resources also can help:

    Talk to your doctor if you have any questions or concerns about managing your child’s media use.

Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
© 1995-2022 KidsHealth® All rights reserved. Images provided by iStock, Getty Images, Corbis, Veer, Science Photo Library, Science Source Images, Shutterstock, and Clipart.com