Should you set screen time-limits on your children?

Child watching the TV

Media, screens, TV, the internet and video games have become a significant part of most people’s – and children’s – lives. However, it is still vital that a balance between reality, physical activity, education and genuine rest is achieved for everyone to develop and mature to the best of their ability.

To fit all those different elements of a balanced life into a day or a week, you need to have limits. As an adult, it’s pretty easy to set and stick to your own limits, as you understand why they are required and what harm could come your way if you don’t stick to them. As a parent, it’s equally – if not MORE- important to have those rules and limits in place for your children. This is one way in which you can ensure you’re doing your best for their mental and physical development.

Active Advantage

Before you can go ahead and set boundaries on screen time, it’s important to understand that while tablets, games, video calling, cartoons and educational programmes all count as screen time – they are different and affect your children’s – and your – brains differently.

Tablets and interactive use

While the rise in the popularity and use of tablets has been quick and recent, many children don’t remember a time when they weren’t around. Tablets have so numerous uses, many of which are linked to how easy it is to move them from room-to-room or place-to-place.

young couple using digital tablet

One common use of tablets is to video-call family and friends. It’s a great way to catch up with grandparents and cousins, particularly if they live far away or in different countries. This type of screen time is considered a good use of screens. That’s because there is a two-way interaction with someone the child knows – or someone you want them to get to know.

Studies show that two-way interaction can be beneficial for neurological development. But, what about interactive games? Surely, it stands to reason that using a tablet or computer to play games that require a response, decision, and action from the user could also be deemed ‘beneficial’. And, of course, it is – to a point. If your child is constantly sitting and leading and increasingly sedentary lifestyle, then their fitness and health will suffer.

beautiful girl playing with little brother at home

This is where you have to keep the idea of a balanced lifestyle in mind. Yes, it’s great that your child enjoys educational, interactive digital activities. However, they need to work with other people in the real world and they also need to be active.

You need to be sure that you child is spending enough time in the real world as well as doing physical activity.

What this information means is that you don’t have to include ALL screen time in your limits. Although, you still need to be sure that your child or children are spending enough time in the real world, as well as doing physical activity.

Watching TV

Watching television can again come under two brackets: watching recreational entertainment programmes and watching educational TV. Recreational TV entertainment is a great way to wind down after a tough day. It allows you to switch off a bit and not have to consider your actions or responses. However, for young children whose brains are still developing at a stellar rate, this is not a good thing.


Children need to engage, respond, and think deeply in order to help keep their brains developing and expanding in a way that is beneficial to them as they mature. For this reason, it is important to limit recreational TV in particular. A study has shown that children who watch a lot of TV – more than two-to-four hours per day – tend to perform poorer in maths tests later on and engage less in the classroom.

Watching TV for educational purposes, such as a programme or channel on animals, your little one really likes or is learning about it at school can be helpful on a mental level. But, we can’t stress enough the significance of ensuring children are getting enough physical activity, too. This means leaving enough time in the day for that to happen and even to go into the garden or park with them.


Bearing that in mind, it could be useful, at least for you, to have two limits; one for recreational TV and the other for educational screen time which will include age appropriate interactive tablet time, video screen time, speaking to relatives and friends, and dedicated educational TV programmes.

If you’re unsure what that time limit should be, you could start with how much physical activity you want them to have and work it out that way.

Official guidelines

There are no official UK Government guidelines on what is considered to be the recommended maximum screen or TV time for children of any age. Other countries do provide this information, though.

In the US zero TV time is the recommendation for children under the age of 2 from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). In France they recommend no TV time for children under the age of 3.

kids, friends, sitting in living room at home, watching TV and eating popcorn

Going forward, a TV or screen-time limit of two-hours per day is the generally recommended limit. However, the AAP conceded in 2015 that new, updated, and most importantly, achievable guidelines are now required.

“In a world where ‘screen time’ is becoming simply ‘time,’ our policies must evolve or become obsolete,” the AAP’s media committee said.

A Japanese study, meanwhile, showed that the impact of watching TV on a child’s brain. The study watched children aged between 5 and 18 who watched between zero and four hours of TV per day. Those children who watched the most TV had more grey matter in the frontopolar cortex. This was considered bad as it was linked with lower levels of verbal intelligence.

Do not keep the TV on as background noise

With new studies being conducted and updated guidelines coming out in these times of increased screen usage there is one thing that is increasingly being agreed upon. And that is that if the television isn’t being watched, then it should be switched off. Leaving it on and having it as a background noise limits children’s ability to focus or concentrate on one thing properly.

Other things that appear to be a certainty is to keep screens out of the bedroom. All screens, televisions, mobiles, tablets and games consoles, particularly at night time. There are a number of reasons for this. One of them is that the blue screen helps to keep the brain awake as does the action on screen in many cartoons, programmes and games.

Dr.Aric Sigman advocates a limit of two hours screen time per day for children aged 5-to-18 regardless of the type of screen time engaged in.

Additionally, if your child has one or more of these screens in their bedrooms, you’re less able to monitor their use of them – and limit it.

Dr. Aric Sigman urges that more stringent rules and restrictions are put in place regarding children’s screen time. He says even among the screen use that is beneficial and educational there should be strict limits of two-hours per day for children between the ages of 5 and 18.

Physical activity is important for brain development

Children who partake in physical activity are fit, healthy and, crucially, tend to perform better in mental testing than their less fit counterparts. There are a number of studies, which you can find here, here, here, here and here, that show this to be the case. And that means you must remember not to neglect your child or children’s physical fitness and development.

children playing ball

Yes, we know, this has now been raised THREE TIMES! But as you can see, it really is so critical to your child’s overall well-being.

A balanced lifestyle is best

We know you know this already, and are simply putting this in as a reminder and also offering some ideas on how to achieve it.

As with all aspects of life, a little bit of everything is the best way to remain healthy and happy. It applies in food, exercise, fun activities and screen time.

As a parent, you do your best to engage in all aspects of your child’s life. When it comes to food, you prepare much of it and are aware of what and how much your children eat. With regards to exercise, you no doubt arrange and pay for many of the classes they take and activities they participate in. Parties and fun outdoor time is again something you have a lot of control and/or influence over. It should be the same with screen time.

Don’t be afraid to set limits

Don’t be afraid to set limits. If your child complains then be patient and explain why you have chosen to set the limits and rules you have. If your child is old enough, then explain some of the studies and physical or mental aspects of TV on them. When it comes to what types of shows you let them watch or games you let them play, again, explain. Tell them why you don’t want them to play Grand Theft Auto or watch the Disney Channel or watch TV at all in the last hour before bedtime.

If you make yourself understood, your child will more likely listen and comply without causing a fuss. With those that DO cause a fuss if you begin introducing new rules and limits, be patient but remain firm. By repeating the same reasons and staying calm, they will eventually understand you are sticking to these new limits and there’s no getting round them.

family watching TV together at home

Besides setting limits when your children do have screen time why not share that time with them? If you have younger children then only let them watch age-appropriate programmes. If you have lots of jobs to do, rather than always letting your little one watch TV while you crack on with your work, there are some jobs that can be done while sitting with your kids. If you have some washing that needs sorting, folding or ironing, set yourself up in the same room as your little one and have a chat with them about the programme they’re watching.

Or, if you can hear what they are watching while you are doing a task in another room, bring it up later on in the day. If the number 7 was being discussed, then make up a song about it or count up to 7 together.

Active Advantage

If they’re a little older, why not take it in turns to choose a program or youtube video that you will both enjoy, or, better yet, can enjoy as a family? That way, recreational TV time can become more stimulating, you can discuss interesting or funny aspects of the show or film that brings about the interaction and stimulates brain activity in the right areas.

Don’t overthink it

With most things, there are positive and negative sides. It’s important to be aware of the negative and limit it while still enjoying the positive part of a particular activity or food. If there’s a new movie due out that the whole family can enjoy then go and watch it! Have fun together and don’t stress about it. And why not try to apply that same philosophy elsewhere? If there’s a sport or activity your or a family member wants to try then do it. A new restaurant you fancy? Try it.

family cycling in summer

Trying new things, be it a new TV programme, a new sport, a new food, a new instrument or even a new country, will all provide stimulation, interaction and enjoyment so give it a shot!