Everything you need to know about managing screen time

Share this:
Jump to

We have more devices than ever. Computers and digital devices dominate day-to-day life through school and work. Kids and adults, on average, now spend more time online than outside. All this is what we call “screen time.” It’s a term used to describe activity that happens in front of a screen, whether on a phone, tablet, computer, or TV. 

Why care about screen time?

There is still a lot of debate around whether or not the use of screens adversely affects lives, relationships, or personal development, but one thing is certain: screen time is here, and it’s not going away anytime soon. So many families are choosing to better understand screen time, its positives and negatives, and strategies to maintain a healthy balance in front of and away from screens. 

What are the effects of screen time?

The effects of screen time are still being studied by experts. While it’s a vast, complicated field, screen time has already been shown to have adverse effects on the mind and tends to manifest in different ways at different ages. Its effects can be broken down into categories by mental, physical, and emotional effects.


While more studies are released on a regular basis, a few results can already be associated with screen time use, like poor sleep patterns, problems paying attention, and addictive behavior. It’s important to keep in mind that not all screen time is bad (check out our piece on how to use screen time to enrich your family life!). It’s overuse that can lead to other problems.


Time spent on screens often means little to no physical activity and reduces exercise or outdoor time. Media use is associated with obesity, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. And exposure to screens before bed, late at night, or even in the middle of the night can mess with circadian rhythms and lead to poor sleep quality.


Screen time and its features, like frequent notifications and endless scrolling, can cause an emotional toll, as well. Overexposure to screens and the internet has been linked to anxiety disorders, trouble focusing, withdrawal from friends and family, and even depression. In rarer cases, kids and adults alike can develop dependencies or addictions to screens, such as having trouble disconnecting from social media.

How many hours of screen time on average is healthy?

While everyone has their own opinion about recommended screen time by age, limits will be different for everyone and can change over time. Experts and organizations like Common Sense Media tend to agree that the less screen time a person, kid, or family gets, the better. Here’s a brief guide on average screen time by age:

Kids (0-8) <2 hours

Younger kids usually need the most device and screen time limits and should be carefully watched over. Developing good screen time habits early is important for kids at younger ages. Screen time for kids between ages 0–8 is typically recommended to be kept to no more than two hours per day.

Tweens (9-12) ~2 hours

As kids get a little older, most families consider evolving their screen time limits and device rules. While this age group generally shouldn’t have more screen time than kids, families can discuss access to new or different apps and when they are appropriate, like social media or video games. 

Teens (13-18) ~3 hours for personal use

For many teens, getting a cell phone means downloading social media and talking with friends. While this can support social development, like any other age group, too much screen time can take a toll on teens. Most teens, depending on their age, are looking for more independence making it harder to enforce boundaries. The average screen time recommended is three hours a day—unless they have to be online for school. It’s up to parents to decide how to manage screen time, but teens still need to have limits on their screen time use as well.

Adults ~2 hours for personal use

Most adults spend an average of 11 hours a day in front of screens. While that might seem like a lot, it includes time spent in front of a screen at work, during breaks on smartphones, and at home. As parents, try to set good examples for their kids, take care of yourself, and make sure you aren’t overusing. Experts recommend no more than two hours of screen time per day outside of work.

The pros and cons of screen time

Not all screen time is bad. It can have many benefits, like making day-to-day life more convenient and fun. Here’s a look at some of the pros and cons of screen time use.

Screen time is increasingly being used for education. Kid-oriented games, activities, and apps can help increase brain function and encourage learning. School-issued Chromebooks and Zoom classes are becoming commonplace. While all these can be useful, it’s important to remember that it’s still screen time and, therefore, should be taken into account as total time spent on digital or online-connected devices.
Screen Addiction
Kids and adults alike can develop “screen addiction” and end up spending several hours per day on digital devices. Setting time limits and taking frequent breaks from screens can help combat addiction.
Who doesn’t love video chatting with grandma and grandpa? Devices such as phones and computers help us stay in touch with loved ones and far-away friends or even make new connections—like a digital version of being pen pals!
One of the darker undersides of social media is cyberbullying. Victims can become overwhelmed and develop social anxiety, potentially resulting in even more screen time. While kids and teenagers are especially susceptible to cyberbullying, many adults also experience cyberbullying in one form or another.
This one is pretty obvious, right? Devices are perfect to take your mind off things for an hour or two. Games, apps, shows, movies, and more—everything is right there at the click of a button.
Physical Health Risks
An overabundance of screen time can lead to health problems such as poor sleep patterns, less energy, and less time spent exercising or getting outside. Strategies to help mindfully balance screen time, like setting family rules on when devices are and aren’t allowed, can be helpful in creating balance and healthy habits.

How to tell if your child is getting too much screen time

Online devices and apps are programmed to give kids, teens, and adults a shot of excitement every time they interact with them. Many apps are purposefully engineered to draw users in and keep them there. That’s why it’s important to keep an eye on kids who use them.

No matter what phase you’re in or how old your kids are, there are several things you want to watch out for regarding kids' device use.

Trouble focusing

This can manifest itself offline as kids being fidgety or unable to sit for long periods of time. If they can’t focus on homework, chores, or even more passive activities like reading, this may be a sign of too much screen time.


We all get irritable from time to time. But if you find it difficult to get your kids to put their devices down, or if they get frustrated when you ask them to put them away for chores or family dinner, it could be another sign of too much screen time.


Sometimes, kids or teens just need a little alone time, but if your child seems to be talking less, coming out of their room less, or being less engaged than usual, it’s good to check in, as they could be withdrawing due to something like cyberbullying.

Ultimately, we recommend checking in and talking openly with your children about how they are doing, how they’re using devices, and what sort of interactions they’re having online. Also, do your best to keep up with the latest games and apps to try to understand what your kids are using.

Monitoring screen time

Monitoring screen time and device activity could be worth exploring depending on your children’s age, your family’s device usage, and how you want to create balance. The first step to successful screen time management is talking about it. Here’s what some of those conversations might look like.

Getting on the same page: Parents

Parenting takes a village. So it’s never too early to talk to your partner—or anybody else who helps raise your kids, like grandparents, friends, or even the babysitter—about screen time.

  • Make time to talk. Before taking rules to the rest of the family, make sure everyone is in agreement about what the rules will look like. How much time, where and when screens will be allowed, and how they will be monitored are good subjects to tackle.
  • Respect differences. Screen time is not created equally. . Does the computer count if it’s for work or school? How much screen time or privacy does a 14-year-old get compared to a 7-year-old? Do kids get extra screen time as a reward for completing chores or getting good grades, if at all?
  • Check in. Keep all lines of communication open when it comes to screen time. The rules likely won’t be the same forever, and that’s okay! 

Getting on the same page: Families

Once parents and other guardians are on the same page, it’s time to talk to the rest of the family. This can be done as a family meeting or one-on-one conversations—what works best will likely be different for each family. Tackling screen time might not happen overnight, so consider taking it in steps.

  • Make a plan. As parents, you should have ground rules laid out and agreed upon before taking it to the rest of the family. Consider a daily time limit for each child and specific apps or app categories to limit or that should always be allowed based on what’s appropriate for them.
  • Have a family meeting. Have a conversation with your kids (together or one-on-one) about screen time. Lay out the plan—but listen to, and possibly even address or amend it based on requests or suggestions made by kids. Open communication is key to a successful screen time talk, but sometimes parents will have to stand firm on what they’ve decided.
  • Stick to the plan. Kids will always push the boundaries on screen time, so consistency is key. Explore screen time settings with a passcode using Apple’s Screen Time in the iOS or Android’s Digital Wellbeing, both found in the settings app or use parental controls apps to limit screen time across devices. Evasion is real—kids will likely try to get around whatever measures you put in place to monitor or limit screen time. 

Designate “screen-free” times and areas

In addition to creating rules around screen time usage, apps, and more, consider designating “screen-free” places and times in the household. Limiting screens to certain rooms and times can create balance and boundaries. For example:

  • The Dinner Table: Breakfast, lunch, or dinner whatever or whenever makes sense for your family. Or all three—when it’s time to eat, it’s time for phones to be put away.
  • Bedrooms: Have kids leave phones or tablets outside the bedroom so it’s a screen-free sanctuary.
  • Bedtime: For stronger sleep practices and habits, consider putting phones away an hour before bedtime. Since screens can be disruptive to sleep patterns, it’s important for kids (and adults) to start winding down an hour before bed, meaning no phones, TV, or tablets.

Remember to set an example. If you’re enforcing these screen-free times and areas for your children, parents should adhere to these rules, too. 

Screen time alternatives

Does it sometimes feel like screens rule your home? They don’t have to. Here are some ideas to keep kids off screens and active—mentally and physically:


  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar - Eric Carle
  • Where the Wild Things Are - Maurice Sendak
  • The Giving Tree - Shel Silverstein
  • The Girl Who Drank the Moon - Kelly Barnhill
  • Hatchet - Gary Paulsen
  • The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe - C.S. Lewis
  • Ready Player One - Ernest Cline
  • The Hate U Give - Angie Thomas
  • The Giver - Lois Lowry


  • Cook dinner together
  • Have a fashion show with items from their (or your!) closets
  • Have an outdoor movie night
  • Go camping
  • Plant a garden
  • Go for a walk
  • Play a board game
  • Pack a picnic and head to a park

Related tags:
Got a question? Ask an expert here

You ask. We answer!

The online world is full of questions—and we’re here to help answer them. Submit a question here, and we’ll publish it (anonymously), with expert answers, tips, and insights. We'll also email you when your answer is available. While every family is different, your question could be a top concern for other parents. Understanding is a click away.

Ask away!
We've received your question, thank you.

We aim to answer you as quickly as possible, typically within five business days. We’ll also email you a copy of the answer in addition to a link where you can view.

Our responses to your questions are for informational purposes only and not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Never disregard professional advice or delay in seeking it.

Something went wrong while submitting the form.

We’re here to help

Find the resources, community, and conversations you need to raise a safer, more connected generation