Here’s Why It’s a Good Idea to Limit Kids’ Screen Time — and How to Do It

A child uses a tablet while traveling on an airplane.
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We all know technology can be a very useful tool.

For children, access to smartphones, tablets and more can serve as a great source of education and entertainment. But like much in life, moderation is key.

Many parents can attest that too much screen time can be a negative thing, and huge tech supporters have recently aired their concerns as well.

Two big Apple investors, Jana Partners LLC and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, sent an open letter to the tech company on Jan. 6 urging it to develop tools to help parents curb kids’ smartphone overuse, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The letter sites potential negative consequences of too much personal tech usage, including:

  • Distraction at school
  • Increased emotional and social challenges
  • Increased risk of depression and suicide
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Lower empathy

How Much Is Too Much?

In 2015, Common Sense Media found that tweens between the ages of 8 and 12 spent an average of four-and-a-half hours a day looking at screens outside of school and homework assignments. Teens ages 13 to 18 were found to indulge in over six-and-a-half hours of daily screen time.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has specific recommendations for screen time for younger children — only one hour a day of high-quality programming for kids 2 to 5 and none for those under 18 months, with the exception of video chatting.

However, its guidelines aren’t as direct when it comes to older kids, which could leave a lot open to interpretation.

The organization does recommend that parents of children 6 and up “place consistent limits on the time spent using media and the types of media and make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health.”

Curbing Screen Time Overuse

So what can you do to cut back if you think your child is engaging in too much smartphone use or is developing a tech addiction?

As part of a campaign to enhance children’s health, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute offers the following tips on reducing screen time:

  • Explain to your kids the importance of being physically active.
  • Model good screen time behavior yourself.
  • Track how much screen time they get versus how much physical activity they get.
  • Set house rules on how much screen time is acceptable and which rooms should be screen-free.
  • Turn off the devices at meal time.
  • Encourage your child to seek other alternatives to occupy their time, like playing outside, practicing a sport or trying out a new hobby.

In a world where so many kids already have their own smartphones, it can be helpful to have other parents on your side — not judging your decisions, but serving as the strength in numbers you need to rebut your child’s claim that every kid has their own device and is on it 24/7.

A group of Austin parents formed a campaign called “Wait Until 8th,” encouraging other parents to pledge to wait until their child is at least in eighth grade before giving them their own smartphone.

News of the pledge has been spreading across the country. Penny Hoarder writer Tiffany Connors, a mother of a third grader, said sixth-grade parents at her child’s school have been talking about it and that she has considered signing the pledge herself.

NPR reported in November that more than 4,000 families across the nation have committed to waiting until eighth grade to give smartphones their kids.

Nicole Dow is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She enjoys writing about parenting and money.