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Family Screen Time Plan

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Mar 5, 2023.

A family screen time plan is a way for you to create healthy limits for electronic device use. Devices include television, video games, computers, laptops, tablets, and smart phones. You can set limits on the kinds of devices each family member can use. You can also set limits on where the devices can be used, and for how long each day.


Why it is important to limit screen time:

Limits will help prevent your child from developing health problems from too much screen time. Your child may be less active during screen time. A lack of physical activity increases your child's risk for health problems such as obesity or diabetes. He or she may also develop eye strain from looking at electronic screens for long periods. Screen time may also prevent your child from interacting with others. Limits help make sure your child has time for activities with friends and family members. This will help him or her develop good social skills.

How to create a family screen time plan:

Your child's pediatrician can help you develop the plan so that it is right for your child. If you have more than one child, create a plan for each child. Screen time limits are generally based on a child's age:

  • Birth to 18 months: Screen time is not recommended, except for video chatting.
  • 18 months to 2 years: Your pediatrician may say it is okay to introduce high-quality programs on TV or a computer. You or another adult should watch with your child. Help your child understand what he or she is seeing. Try to make this screen time as interactive as possible.
  • 2 to 5 years: Limit screen time to 1 hour each day. Screen time needs to focus on educational, high-quality programs, games, and apps.
  • 6 to 17 years: Limit screen time to 2 hours each day. Your child might need to use a computer or tablet for school work. His or her pediatrician can help you account for this time in the overall screen time plan.

Guidelines to help you create a family screen time plan:

  • Put the plan where it is easy to see. The plan needs to be where your child and everyone who takes care of him or her can see it. Make sure everyone watching your child follows the rules included in the plan.
  • Do not carry screen time over to another day. Your child may have days with no screen time. Do not add that unused time to another day. The limit will always be 1 to 2 hours each day, even if your child had no screen time the day before.
  • Create screen-free areas. These are places where no one is allowed to use electronic devices. Examples include the kitchen and the family room. Do not let your child have a TV in his or her room. The car should also be a screen-free area as much as possible. Your child may be able to watch a movie during a long car trip. Devices should not be used during short trips, such as errands. This is a good time to interact with your child.
  • Set screen-free times during the day. This is also called a curfew. Examples include dinnertime, before school, and certain hours on the weekends. He or she can play actively with friends, or play a sport. He or she can read a book, draw or color, or practice a musical instrument. Your child also needs to stop using electronic devices at least 1 hour before bedtime. Do not let your young child have screen time during naps. He or she should not fall asleep while watching TV or a movie.
  • Balance your child's online and offline time. Make sure screen time does not keep your child from getting enough sleep and being active. Be consistent with the time limits for your child. Help him or her create a balanced schedule. Your child should have time for homework, physical activity, family time, and active play. Children and adolescents should get at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day.

Keep your child's screen time safe:

  • Learn about programs for your child. Research downloadable programs before your child uses them. Some programs say they are educational, but your child only has to swipe or click responses. Ask your child's pediatrician about programs, or research them online. Make sure programs are appropriate for your child's age.
  • Control what your child can view and download. Many devices come with parent controls. This means you can create settings that only allow your child to visit appropriate sites for his or her age. The settings block messages from and your child's access to adult sites. Settings may help you prevent your child from seeing violent, sexual, or frightening content. You can also limit what your child is able to download from the internet. Talk to your child about safety. Also tell your child to let you know if anyone is bullying him or her online.
  • Teach your child to be respectful online. Respect means your child does not bully anyone online. This is called cyberbullying, and it should be treated the same as bullying done in person. Respect also means your child does not post negative comments. Keep computers that connect to the internet in public areas of your home. This will allow you to see what your child is viewing, and what he or she is posting. Tell your child what the punishment will be if he or she does not have good online manners.

Help your child develop healthy screen time habits:

  • Be a good role model. Your child will learn good habits by watching you. Be responsible with your own screen time. You may want to create a screen time plan for yourself and other adults in your home. Limit your time on the computer or smart phone. Help create family time activities everyone will enjoy. Examples include going for a walk or playing board games. You may want to make a rule that all devices stay off during family time.
  • Encourage screen-free days. Your child may have days that are busy with sports, friends, or outings. This is a good opportunity for your child to have a screen-free day. Talk to your child about planning screen-free days.
  • Do not use screen time as a reward or punishment. The limit needs to stay consistent. Do not offer more screen time for good behavior. Do not use the threat of no screen time as a way to get your child to behave. Try to keep the focus off of screen time so it becomes a small part of your child's day.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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