Published on March 31, 2021

How Much Screen Time Should Kids Have And Why?

How Much Screen Time Should Kids Have And Why?

The dreaded screen time debate can feel like a never-ending battle. Kids want more of it, but parents want them to have less. So much of our lives involve technology that it’s almost impossible to avoid. We now rely on it for learning and social interaction, not just for fun.

It can be hard to find the right balance or even know what “balanced” looks like. The negativity surrounding kids and screen time adds to the guilt and uncertainty. How much is too much? At what point is it harmful?

Maybe it’s time for some good news that could help set your mind at ease. New studies show that technology might not be as bad for your kids as initially thought, and it’s the quality—not the quantity—of screentime that really counts.

What Do We Know About the Effects of Screen Time on Kids?

Parents aren’t alone because even scientists are torn about this topic. It might sound like there’s solidarity on the topic, but that’s not the case.[1] Many psychologists disagree with the conclusions formed from the available studies.

Why? Research hasn’t been extensive enough, the results are conflicting, and there’s little proof that screentime is the actual cause of behavioral and mental problems.[2]

A Lack of Research

Technology is relatively new. There hasn’t been enough time to do long-term conclusive studies. Unfortunately, time isn’t the only issue. It’s hard to find parents that would allow a mandatory six hours of screentime a day or say, none at all, for an extended period.

There are other problems as well. Much of the research is correlational, cross-sectional, or based on self-report. Studies have relied on the parent’s and child’s observations and feelings, leading to a greater risk for biased and skewed data.[3]

Conflicting Results and New Information

How many times have you heard that screen time can disrupt a child’s sleep? Or that too much screentime can make your child moody or depressed? While based on previous studies and accepted as truth, researchers are now coming to other conclusions.

How much are a child’s mood and sleep actually affected?


One recent study found that sleep disruption in children is minimal—on average, only 3 to 8 minutes less per hour of screen time.[4]. Some kids may be more sensitive than others, so know what your child can handle. Using a blue light blocker can help, along with cutting off screentime one hour before bed. Overall, it’s more beneficial to focus on a bedtime routine and a consistent wake-up time.

How about the effects on moodiness? According to a study, it would take over five hours of device-based screen time before caregivers or parents notice an increase in psychosocial functioning.[5]

Does It Cause Depression and Anxiety?

The link between screen time and a child’s or teen’s mental health is also being questioned. Studies have not produced consistent results and fail to show a causal relationship, leaving researchers to question the correlation.[6][7]

What came first, the chicken or the egg? Likewise, is an adolescent struggling with mental health issues because of too much screentime? Or is the child using more screentime because of mental health issues? Correlation doesn’t mean causation. Kids dealing with depression and anxiety might simply be more likely to over-use their phones.[8]

Why Quality Over Quantity Is the New Focus

Screen time is often lumped into one category, but researchers are finding that it’s not all equal. The subject goes deeper than a simple “good” or “bad.”

Think of it as food. Not all food affects the body the same way. Some things are highly beneficial, others just a little, and some are detrimental or even harmful.

Time has to be taken into account as well. Eating a few cookies one day is different than eating a few cookies multiple times a day, every day, for years. Short-term effects are not nearly as concerning as the long-term changes that can take place.[9]

So, what kind of screentime is the “healthier” choice? It’s broken down into two categories: active and passive.[10]

Active Screen Time

Interactive programs and games will engage the brain and cause the child to think. It can be video games, videos, chatting, active learning apps, or anything that encourages thought, creativity, and problem-solving skills.


Passive Screen Time

This is the idle time when the child “vegges out” doing things like scrolling through social media and watching shows or movies. These things can still be enjoyed once in a while but need to be done in moderation. It’s this passive screentime that can negatively affect children.[11]

It’s Not Always Black and white

This makes it easy, right? Wrong. It is easier to make decisions based on whether screentime is active or passive, but it doesn’t end there. Sometimes, a game or video might look educational but offer little value.

Likewise, something might look like idle time but be highly educational. Navigating through this complex topic is impossible without considering quality, but it takes determination and time to dig deeper.[12]

The Surprising Benefits of Screen Time for Kids

Kids are surrounded by technology and are bound to interact with it, despite the negative attention it draws. Being aware of the positives can help you find balance. What are some ways kids benefit from active screen time?

Video games

Video games have a bad reputation and are often considered a waste of time, but they can fall into the active category. The benefits vary depending on the video game, but most are associated with the following:

  • Visual processing
  • Attention
  • Hand-eye coordination
  • Spatial processing
  • Problem-solving
  • Creativity
  • Self-direction
  • Social interaction
  • Discovery

Educational Programs

Some shows might be marketed as educational but fall short in reality. However, most strive to provide quality content for kids and help with the following:[13]

  • Literacy
  • Color, number, and letter recognition
  • Imagination
  • Character development
  • Exposure to places and cultures

Technology use can also help a child become tech-savvy—an invaluable skill for the future. Kids are better at adapting to new things. Growing up with technology gives them the chance to become familiar with it while learning self-regulation.

When Active Screen Time Isn’t Good Enough

Children under two need more than interactive games and videos. Their symbolic, memory, and attention skills are not mature enough to learn from digital media. They are unable to transfer what’s on the screen to real life. At this age, a child’s cognitive, language, motor, social, and emotional skills are developed through personal interactions and hands-on play.

This doesn’t mean young kids should never have screentime, but it should be minimal and used as a time to connect.[14][15]


The Negative Impact of Screen Time

Of course, there needs to be a balance. While screen time might not be bad, there are still plenty of potential problems to be aware of. Often the negatives are listed as if they stand alone when they are usually symptoms of underlying issues.

What’s one of the biggest problems? Screentime takes away from real-life activities.

Obesity, moodiness, sleep-deprivation, and lack of concentration become issues when screentime replaces healthy habits and activities. It’s not the technology that’s dangerous but what we allow it to replace. Kids are less active, staying up too late, and distracted because of it. Adults are guilty of this, too.

However, parents shouldn’t throw out current advice regarding screentime. It’s too soon to know the long-term effects, but there’s wisdom in moderation. Kids should be encouraged to play, be active, and even be bored. Boredom is a precursor to creativity.

“We have to be flexible enough to evolve with the technology but choose how to use it right. Fire was a great discovery to cook our food, but we had to learn it could hurt and kill as well, ” said Michael Rich, director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Boston Children’s Hospital, associate professor of pediatrics at HMS, and associate professor of social and behavioral sciences at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.[16]

Children and teens can learn to self-regulate by paying attention to how they feel. Everyone can learn to “unplug” by taking inventory of their time, focusing on goals, and finding real-life adventures.

What to Do When You Think There Is an Addiction

Does your child get upset when you try to take away the tablet or phone? Does your child want to use it often and seem to prefer it? Don’t worry. That doesn’t mean there’s an addiction. It could be a matter of frustration.

Children, like adults, can have a hard time suddenly switching tasks. Interruptions can be upsetting, so let your child ease into it. Give a five or ten-minute “warning” that time is almost up. Talk to them, drawing them out of their “zone” to help ease the transition.

What if that doesn’t work? What if screentime starts to cause more significant problems?


8 Signs of Screen Dependency Disorder

Naturally, addiction is a concern for parents as they watch their children stare mindlessly at a screen and become angry when it’s time to turn it off. If you think your child struggles with control, here’s what to look for, according to Neurohealth Associates:[17]

  • Preoccupation
  • Withdrawal
  • Increased tolerance
  • Failure to reduce or stop screentime
  • Loss of other interests
  • Continues despite negative consequences
  • Lying about use
  • Uses to escape adverse moods

Screen Dependency Disorder and Your Child’s Health

This disorder can negatively impact your child’s health, both short and long-term. What are some of the problems it can cause?

Short-Term Health Problems

  • insomnia
  • back pain
  • weight gain or loss
  • vision problems
  • headaches
  • anxiety
  • dishonesty
  • feelings of guilt and loneliness
  • aggression

Long-Term Health Problems

When addicted, a child’s brain will lose tissue in the frontal lobe, striatum, and insula over time. How does that specifically affect behavior and growth? This tissue loss can cause a child to struggle with:

  • Planning and organization
  • Suppressing socially unacceptable impulses
  • Developing compassion and empathy
  • Speech

7 Steps to Help Break the Screen Time Cycle

Real addiction is rare, but there will probably be a time when your child needs a detox.[18] You might decide there needs to be less screentime overall, or maybe everyone needs a break. How can you make this transition easier? After all, no one wants unnecessary drama.[19]

  1. Create a plan. Talk with your child(ren), discuss concerns, and get everyone’s feedback.
  2. Pick a start date. Set a future date, giving children time to accept the plan.
  3. Make a list of alternative things to do. Be prepared for the inevitable “I’m bored.” Bins of toys, games, crafts, and books can encourage play.
  4. Keep devices out of sight. There will be less temptation if they’re out of view.
  5. Play with your child. Some kids need a boost, and your involvement will make them want to play even more.
  6. Be a good role model. Kids will mimic your behavior, so limit your own screentime.
  7. Create new routines. Kids often use screentime out of habit. Find the times your child is most likely to use it, and help fill in that space with something else.

How to Find a Balance That’s Right for Your Family

Families are different, so what works for one won’t necessarily work for the other. Don’t feel like you have to base your guidelines around what others do. You know your kids better than anyone.

Here are a few tips for finding the right balance. Remember, you will probably need to make adjustments as your kids grow.

  • Be involved. Kids learn more when a parent or caregiver is actively engaging with them during screen time. It’s a great way to connect with your child. Plus, you’ll know what they’re watching and playing, giving you better insight and control.
  • Have tech-free zones and times. This might be while eating, before bed, or after school. Find specific times and places where screen time is not allowed. Choose what works best for your family’s schedule.
  • Avoid multi-tasking. Forcing the brain to do multiple things at once results in poor quality work. Encourage kids to focus on one thing at a time.
  • Teach awareness and self-regulation. Teach your child the difference between active and passive screentime. Help them become aware of their feelings while playing games or watching programs.
  • Give them some control. It seems counter-intuitive, but this will teach them responsibility and diminish the feeling that screen time is “special.” If it’s used as a reward or treat, kids will only want it more.[20] Normalize screentime, and kids will get bored with it after a while.
  • Get expert advice. Many helpful resources can help you set up a plan for your family.[21] Know the current policies and recommendations stated by pediatricians and psychologists.[22]

Remember, no one knows your child as you do. Balance and control will come naturally if you set a good example, stay involved, and find alternative family activities.

Featured photo credit: Patricia Prudente via


[1] Sage Journals: Do Policy Statements on Media Effects Faithfully Represent the Science?
[2] OECDiLibrary: Impacts of technology use on children, exploring literature on the brain, cognition, and well-being
[3] American Psychological Association: What Do We Really Know About Kids And Screens?
[4] Journal of Pediatrics: Digital Screentime and Pediatric Sleep
[5] Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry: How Much Is Too Much? Examining the Relationship Between Digital Screen Engagement and Psychosocial Functioning in a Confirmatory Cohort Study
[6] Sage Journals: Young Adolescents’ Digital Technology Use, and Mental Health Symptoms: Little Evidence of Longitudinal or Daily Linkages
[7] Nature: Human Behavior: The Association Between Adolescent Well-being and Digital Technology Use
[8] Slate: What Does A Screen Do?
[9] NCBI: Children Wired- For Better And For Worse
[10] Sage Journals: Active versus Passive Screentime for Young Children
[11] Sustain Health Magazine: What is the Difference Between Active and Passive Screentime for Teens?
[12] Biomed Central: Type of screen time moderates effects on outcomes in 4013 children
[13] Translational Journal of the American College of Sports Medicine: The Ubiquity of the Screen: An Overview of the Risks and Benefits of Screen Time in Our Modern World
[14] Pediatrics: Media And Young Minds
[15] SRCD: Memory Constraints on Infant Learning From Picture Books, Television, and Touchscreens
[16] Harvard Medical School: Screentime and the Brain
[17] NHAHealth: Screen Dependency Disorder: The Effects of ‘Screen Time’ Addiction
[18] Common Sense Media: What Parents Need to Know About Technology Addiction
[19] Simply Snapping: The 7 Step Method to Save Your Kids from Screen Addiction
[20] American Psychological Association: What do we really know about kids and screens?
[21] Family Media Plan
[22] American Academic of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry: Screen Time and Children

More by this author

Adrienne Koziol

Adrienne is an educator, blogger, and mother of 9. She loves to help people reach their goals in relationships, health, and life.

How Much Screen Time Should Kids Have And Why? How To Help Your Child To Cope With Anger

Trending in Parenting

1 50 Single Mom Quotes On Staying Strong And Loving 2 How Much Screen Time Should Kids Have And Why? 3 Parenting Tips from the Pros: How to Teach Children Not to Lie 4 3 Positive Discipline Strategies That Are Best For Your Child 5 How To Help Your Child To Cope With Anger

Read Next


Published on April 9, 2021

50 Single Mom Quotes On Staying Strong And Loving

50 Single Mom Quotes On Staying Strong And Loving

Being a mom is not easy. Being a single mom is even more challenging. Having children means you are on the job 24/7. Even while you are sleeping, you are still ready to wake at the slightest peep because that is what moms do.

Moms, especially single moms, need more people cheering them on. Your love and care matter to your kids. You are their superhero. I think single moms are superheroes, too.


The quotes below are words of encouragement for all of the single moms out there. Keep up the great work! Your hard work will pay off. Someday, they will be grown up and living on their own. Your job will never truly be done as a mom, but you can pat yourself on the back today and every day for doing mom duty day in and day out.

Here are 50 single mom quotes to encourage all the single moms out there.


  1. “Being raised by a single mother, I learned to appreciate and value independent women.”—Kenny Conley
  2. “As a single mum you’ll discover inner strengths and capabilities you never knew you had.”—Emma-Louise Smith
  3. “One thing I know for sure – this motherhood thing is not for sissies.”—Jennifer Nettles
  4. “Mothers and their children are in a category all their own. There’s no bond so strong in the entire world. No love so instantaneous and forgiving.”—Gail Tsukiyama
  5. “And one day she discovered that she was fierce and strong, and full of fire and that not even she could hold herself back because her passion burned brighter than her fears.”—Mark Anthony
  6. “She never quite leaves her children at home, even when she doesn’t take them along.”—Margaret Culkin Banning
  7. “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.”—Alice Walker
  8. “Everyone has inside of her a piece of good news. The good news is that you don’t know how great you can be, how much you can love, what you can accomplish, and what your potential is.”—Anne Frank
  9. “Doubt is a killer. You just have to know who you are and what you stand for.”—Jennifer Lopez
  10. “You are more powerful than you know; you are beautiful just as you are.”—Melissa Etheridge
  11. “Motherhood is the greatest thing and the hardest thing.”—Ricki Lake
  12. “You don’t take a class; you’re thrown into motherhood and learn from experience.”—Jennie Finch
  13. “If you look at what you have in life, you’ll always have more. If you look at what you don’t have in life, you’ll never have enough.”—Oprah Winfrey
  14. “I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.”—Charlotte Brontë
  15. “Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.”—Nora Ephron
  16. “When a woman becomes her own best friend life is easier.”—Diane Von Furstenberg
  17. “If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman.”—Margaret Thatcher
  18. “Women have discovered that they cannot rely on men’s chivalry to give them justice.”—Helen Keller
  19. “Successful mothers are not the ones that have never struggled. They are the ones that never give up, despite the struggles.”—Sharon Jaynes
  20. “Success, they taught me, is built on the foundation of courage, hard work, and individual responsibility. Despite what some would have us believe, success is not built on resentment and fears.”—Susana Martinez
  21. “You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.”—Maya Angelou
  22. “The question isn’t who’s going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me.”—Ayn Rand
  23. “God could not be everywhere, and therefore he made mothers.”—Rudyard Kipling
  24. “The women whom I love and admire for their strength and grace did not get that way because stuff worked out. They got that way because stuff went wrong, and they handled it. They handled it in a thousand different ways on a thousand different days, but they handled it. Those women are my superheroes.”—Elizabeth Gilbert
  25. “There will be so many times you feel like you failed. But in the eyes, ears, and mind of your child, you are a SUPER MOM.”—Stephanie Precourt
  26. “Motherhood is the ultimate call to sacrifice.”—Wangechi Mutu
  27. “We may encounter many defeats but we must not be defeated.”—Maya Angelou
  28. “A mother’s arms are more comforting than anyone else’s.”—Princess Diana
  29. “There’s no way to be a perfect mother and a million ways to be a good one.”—Jill Churchill
  30. “There’s no doubt that motherhood is the best thing in my life. It’s all that really matters.”—Courtney Cox
  31. “I realized when you look at your mother, you are looking at the purest love you will ever know.”—Mitch Albom
  32. “I have found being a mother has made me emotionally raw in many situations. Your heart is beating outside your body when you have a baby.”—Kate Beckinsale
  33. “Single moms, you are a doctor, a teacher, a nurse, a maid, a cook, a referee, a heroine, a provider, a defender, a protector, a true Superwoman. Wear your cape proudly.”—Mandy Hale
  34. “I’m not really single. I mean, I am, but I have a son. Being a single mother is different from being a single woman.”—Kate Hudson
  35. “Being a single parent is twice the work, twice the stress, and twice the tears but also twice the hugs, twice the love, and twice the pride.”—Unknown
  36. “For me, motherhood is learning about the strengths I didn’t know I had, and dealing with the fears I didn’t know existed.”—Halle Berry
  37. “A single mom tries when things are hard. She never gives up. She believes in her family, even when things are tough. She knows that above all things… a mother’s love is more than enough.”—Denice Williams
  38. “You do the best you can. Some days you feel really good about yourself and some days you don’t.”—Katie Holmes
  39. “I would say to any single parent currently feeling the weight of stereotype or stigmatization that I am prouder of my years as a single mother than of any other part of my life.”JK Rowling
  40. “Just because I am a single mother doesn’t mean I cannot be a success.”—Yvonne Kaloki
  41. “I didn’t plan on being a single mom, but you have to deal with the cards you are dealt the best way you can.”—Tichina Arnold
  42. “Nothing you do for children is ever wasted.”—Garrison Keillor
  43. “A single mom tries when things are hard. She never gives up. She believes in her family, even when things are tough. She knows that above all things, a mother’s love is more than enough.”—Deniece Williams
  44. “Motherhood has a very humanizing effect. Everything gets reduced to essentials.”—Meryl Streep
  45. “Having kids—the responsibility of rearing good, kind, ethical, responsible human beings—is the biggest job anyone can embark on.”—Maria Shriver
  46. “Mother is a verb. It’s something you do. Not just who you are.”—Cheryl Lacey Donovan
  47. “A mother’s love for her child is like nothing else in the world. It knows no law, no pity, it dates all things and crushes down remorselessly all that stands in its path.”—Agatha Christie
  48. “A mother’s arms are more comforting than anyone else’s.”—Princess Diana
  49. “The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world.”—W.R. Wallace
  50. “Being a mother is the greatest blessing and the hardest challenge in all of life.”—Dr. Magdalena Battles

Final Thoughts

Single moms are remarkable women. They are to be respected and honored for all that they do. If you know a single mom, then share this article with them. Tell them “you are doing a great job as a single mom.” They need our encouragement and support.

They may be parenting alone, but it is good to let them know that there are people in their life who care for them. We can all be there for the single moms out there. Even if it is just to say, “keep up the great work, you are an amazing woman!”


If you are a single mom, keep up the good work! You are amazing, and your kids are lucky to have you!

More Tips for Single Moms

Featured photo credit: Alexander Dummer via


Read Next