How much is good for you? Agree on fixed screen times together

Parents educate children to use digital media responsibly. This includes not only that they are familiar with the content they come across on the net. Media literacy also means recognizing when it’s time to take a break from games or movies and that too much screen time can be harmful to their own well-being. Better than strict bans are clear rules and, above all, talking to children about their digital activities. This way, adolescents can make their own experiences and learn from them – together with their parents.

A young woman holds a smartphone with notices for new messages

Children grow up in a digital world. New media offer them many opportunities to learn, play and discover. Digitization presents families with new challenges: In times of constant accessibility, how can we succeed in not neglecting analog life? Many parents worry that smartphones, computers and consoles are harming their children, that they are becoming addicted to them and that other interests are being forgotten. Screen time is therefore often a contentious issue within the family. The following tips will help parents teach their children to use media responsibly and find a good balance between digital and analog interests.

Fixed screen times provide orientation

For younger children up to the age of ten Parents should ensure that a daily limit for screen use is not exceeded. It is important that adolescents have enough time for analog experiences. Use of digital media for school is not to be counted in screen time. LOOK! recommends the following guideline values for orientation:

  • up to five years: up to half an hour of screen time per day
  • six to nine years: up to one hour of screen time per day

For older children from the age of ten it is advisable to agree on a weekly time quota. Children can thus have their own experiences: If the agreed-upon time is used up on just two days, the screens stay dark for the rest of the week. This is how children learn to allocate their resources with foresight and find a healthy balance. The following rule of thumb provides some guidance:

  • ten minutes of media time per year of life per day or
  • one hour per year of life per week

Usage times must be adhered to

It is important that the established rules are followed. Classics such as the egg timer next to the screen or binding agreements, for example in a media use contract between parents and children, can be helpful here. It is also possible to set time limits in the operating system (PC, Android and iOS), through external parental control software (also mobile), for game consoles and in the game software itself. However, such technical aids should be used only at the beginning or over short periods of time. It is more sustainable when children learn to stick to agreements. Younger children can be helped by technical time limits to develop a sense of time passed. But the older they get, the more important are freedoms and independence. So it pays off to establish a conscious handling of screen time before the onset of puberty.

Routines help in everyday life

Set rules of etiquette for the use of mobile devices: in class and during homework, the smartphone has to be put away, at the common meal it has no place and also not to lie on the table. One to two hours before bedtime, the smartphone is off the air. These are examples of routines that structure everyday life with media. Parents who introduce cell phone-free days have also had good experiences – the whole family then sticks to these days. Fixed routines also help with console and PC times: For example, you only play after homework and only until dinner time. Afterwards there is time for other interests or the family. Parents know their children’s habits best and can decide which arrangements fit well into everyday life.

Watch for signs

Parents who know what exactly their children are doing with digital media, what sites they like or what games they play, can educate early on about the risks and possibilities of use. When new games or apps are tried out together and popular YouTubers and series are watched by the whole family, they can also be critically assessed and questioned. Not only how long children use screen media is important, but also why: to relieve boredom, to keep in touch with friends, or to keep up with the latest news? Indications that screen media are getting out of hand are neglect of school duties, withdrawal from other activities and interests or from friendships as well as strong moodiness or irritability.

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