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Emanuel Maidenberg Ph.D.
Emanuel Maidenberg Ph.D.
Internet Addiction

Managing Your Child’s Screen Time

Instead of screen time managing your household.

By Mina Yadegar

A common challenge of parents is limiting screen time.

Screens have become a primary source of not only entertainment, but also learning and communication. In fact, youth ages 8-18 spend about 7.5 hours a day on media devices (Rideout, Foehr, & Roberts, 2010). If you are experiencing this challenge with your child or adolescent, know that you are not alone.

While screens can have benefits (e.g., learning new information, staying up to date with current events, creating online support communities and communication with others), research has also indicated potential negative implications of overuse of screens. Pediatricians have been particularly concerned with the impact of screens on obesity and sleep. High internet use has also been associated with greater risk of depression, anxiety, aggression, and ADHD (Kardaras, 2016). With increased time spent on screens, time is also taken away from real-life social interactions and physical activity. Not to mention the dangers of cyberbullying, sexting, sexual predators, and media influence of alcohol and substances.

So how can you protect your child from the above risks of screens?

1. Set limits

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) previously recommended a limit of 1-2 hours of screens a day for children younger than 2 years old (AAP Council on Communications and Media, 2013). This guideline was influenced by a study indicating the risk of obesity to be 5 times greater for youth who watch more than 5 hours of TV, compared to those who watch 2 or fewer hours of TV (Gortmaker, Must, Sobol, Peterson, Colditz, & Dietz, 1990).

However, the most recent guidelines for children ages 6 and older recommend to “place consistent limits” that allow for enough time for exercise (at least an hour), sleep (9-12 hours for 6-12-year-olds, 8-10 hours for 13-18-year-olds; Paruthi et al., 2016), homework, and family time (AAP Council on Communications and Media, 2016). While these are important, I find that for child and teen patients with other risk factors, such as emotional or behavioral concerns, setting a strict limit is highly beneficial. These limits can defer on school days (e.g., only after homework and/or chores are completed) versus weekends. It is helpful to discuss, write down, and post these “house rules.” Parental control apps that manage, limit, and monitor screen time (e.g., Qustodio) can automatically disconnect devices or apps to reduce the probability of ongoing parent-child disagreements and negotiation. Some of these apps can also block and monitor inappropriate or unsafe content.

2. Set screen-free times and zones

It is helpful to create screen-free times (e.g., mealtimes, bedtime) and zones (e.g., bedrooms, restaurants, dining table; AAP Council on Communications and Media, 2016). Disconnecting from screens during meals allows children to focus on eating and social interactions (e.g., lunch with peers at school, family dinners). Similarly, eliminating entertainment screens during homework time facilitates learning and efficiency, as well as decreasing distractions. As blue light from screens delays our circadian rhythms (our natural internal clocks) and suppresses melatonin (a hormone that regulates our sleep-wake cycle), it is recommended for screens to be turned off an hour before bedtime and to remove all screen devices from bedrooms (AAP Council on Communications and Media, 2016).

3. Set structure and routines that encourage physical activity and peer interactions

Children thrive on structure, and I encourage parents to create a routine of after school and weekend activities that promote healthy behaviors (exercise, real-life peer interaction) instead of being glued to their electronics. This not only allows a child to have alternatives to screens, but pleasurable activities are more likely to boost mood, not to mention the benefits of physical activity and social interaction. If your child does not yet have extracurricular activities, a good place to start is their hobbies or interests, and to find associated sports teams, groups, clubs, or classes.

4. Model time limits

Too often parents set “house rules” and their children return to my office and question why they need to follow these house rules if their parents are not. Your child will not respect the screen time rules if you do not follow them. In addition, children appreciate when they have their parent’s full attention, rather than when their parents are distracted by screens. By modeling the screen time limits, parents not only set a good example for their children, but promotes greater family communication in the long-term (e.g, conversations during car rides and mealtimes).

5. Discuss online safety

Have developmentally appropriate conversations with your child about cyberbullying, sexting, sexual predators, and protecting personal information. This not only increases a child’s awareness of these issues but also opens the conversation so that your child may feel more comfortable to approach you for help, if needed.

Screen time is easier to manage when you start early in a child’s life. In addition, limiting screens from early childhood decreases the risk of the above health concerns. Refer to the AAP's guidelines for young children (ages 0 to 5). The AAP’s Family Media Plan is also a helpful tool families can use to create individualized screen time plans.


AAP Council on Communications and Media (2013). Children, Adolescents, and the Media. Pediatrics, 132, 958-961.

AAP Council on Communications and Media (2016). Media use in school-aged children and adolescents. Pediatrics, 138, 1-6.

Fischer, M. A. (2017, June 14). Manic nation: Dr. Peter Whybrow says we're addicted to stress. Pacific Standard. Retrieved from….

Gortmaker, S. L., Must, A., Sobol, A. M., Peterson, K., Colditz, G. A., & Dietz, W. H. (1996). Television viewing as a cause of increasing obesity among children in the United States, 1986-1990. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, 150, 356-362.

Kardaras, N. (2016). Glow kids: How screen addiction is hijacking our kids - and how to break the trance. New York, NY: St. Martin's Press.

Paruthi, S., Brooks, L.J., D'Ambrosio, C., Hall, W.A., Kotagal, S., Lloyd, R.M., … Wise, M.S. (2016). Recommended amount of sleep for pediatric populations: A consensus statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 12, 785–786.

Rideout, V.J., Foehr U.G., & Roberts D.F. (2010). Generation M2: Media in the lives of 8-to 18-year-oIds. Menlo Park, CA: Henry J. Kaiser Kaiser Family Foundation.

About the Author
Emanuel Maidenberg Ph.D.

Emanuel Maidenberg, Ph.D., is a clinical professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA with a focus on coping with fear and uncertainty.

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