Parenting in a screen time crazed world

Screen time is one of the big buzz words you hear frequently amongst parents and in educational settings today. In our fast pace, busy and technology driven world our children are exposed to very different technology and media than we were as children. Over the course of childhood, children spend more time watching TV than they spend in school (American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 2001). By the age of 7 years, a child born now will have spent one full year of 24 hour days in front of a screen (computer games, internet, DVDs, etc.). Recent research shows that by the age of 18 years, the average European child will have been exposed to 3 years of 24 hour days of screen time (Clouder, 2012). This reflects an ever growing number of children exposed to appropriate or inappropriate content of what is on the screen.

The good and bad

We know that screen time isn’t all bad but we also know that too much isn’t good either. As a parent we are stuck in this dilemma of wanting the best for our children, yet technology can make parenting easier at times, and to add to this burden, it is becoming the norm for younger children to not only have access to, but also own their own gadgets. Deciding when, where, what and how with regards to screen time and technology and your child are a big part of parenting in today’s age.

Let’s face it, technology does make life easier. It is convenient to give your littlie a tablet or put on the TV when you need to cook or drive on a long road trip. In those moments it makes parenting easier, and everyone is happier. We also know that some of the games and shows we can expose our children to can be educational, but we need to closely monitor what they are watching or playing to ensure that they are beneficial.

One of the main areas of concern with screen time is that it doesn’t develop all areas of your child’s functioning. Aspects such as physical skills, language expression, social skills, etc. are not enhanced or even utilised in most of the games or TV programmes. Occupational therapists are noticing an increase in underdeveloped physical skills such as gross and fine motor abilities, crossing the midline or balance, which many feel are attributed to excessive screen time and therefore less time is spent playing outdoors, where these skills naturally develop. These skills have a profound effect on your child’s overall functioning, including academically. Some other potential negative effects of excessive screen time are speech delays, less restorative sleep, nature of parent-child relationships, health difficulties, effects on diet, negative effects on concentration, sensory overload, mental well-being, negative self-esteem, and increased aggression (Aduc, 2018).

Second hand screen time refers to the effect of others, when people in their environment are making use of excessive screen time. This includes children who are exposed to their parents spending a significant amount of time on tablets, computers, cell phones and in front of the TV. Research indicates that second hand screen time distracts the parent and decreases the amount of time the child and parent spend interacting with one another (Policy Statement, 2011). In turn various aspects of a child’s development can be affected. One example of this is poorer language development, as parents spend less time talking to their children or reading them stories, due to increasing time spent in front of the screen.

We all know that most children love spending time with technology, and often are able to work the gadgets better than the adults they are surrounded by. Use this love for technology to your advantage by using screen time as motivation, a reward for good behaviour or specific goals that are reached. We need to remember that screen time is a privilege and not a right. It can be difficult when your children’s friends are allowed excessive time on the tablet or in front of the tv, but in the long run you are helping your children more than they could ever imagine!

Tips for parenting in a technology driven world:

  • Ensure that you monitor and watch or play what shows or games your child is interested in. Get a feel for yourself what the game or show involves and if you feel it is suitable. Furthermore, try and keep watching and playing time for when there is adult supervision in the home.
  • Make sure that screen time is used in moderation. As with most things in life, balance is key.
  • Always ensure that screen activities are only a percentage of your child’s weekly activities. Encourage playing with blocks, Lego, puzzles, drawing, painting, playing outdoors, climbing trees, riding bicycles and spending time in make-belief play.
  • Model good screen time usage with your own actions. If you are spending excessive time with your cell phone in hand, or in front of the TV, it makes it very difficult to tell your child that screen time is only used occasionally.
  • Use technology as a reward. If technology is what your child loves and what motivates them then use it as a reward, for example when they have completed their chores for the day they make have access to the daily WiFi password.

  • “Screenbucks” is another creative parenting trick, which provides your child with something positive to work towards, as opposed to being punished or having a privilege taken away. By doing this, your child is responsible for their own TV time. You don’t have to be the “bad guy” by saying no. They can work for the screen time, if they choose to do so.  If they don’t do X, they don’t get screen time. Their behaviour results in the consequence. When their actions result in consequences, you are then able to sympathise with them and be on their team while facing consequences. i.e. “it is horrible when you can’t watch your favourite TV show, I know you love it. I’m sure tomorrow you will do your chores first thing and it will be super exciting to watch your show!” The world works with logical consequences, and this approach teaches your child about real world consequences and taking responsibility for your own actions and behaviours.

  • “Safe vision” YouTube is a mobile app that can be used by parents to control YouTube videos watched by their children.


Parenting is a tough job, and screen time makes it both easier and more difficult, all at once. Family and friends are all going to have varying opinions. There is no one size fits all approach that works for all children. Sit down and work out a plan that works for your family specifically, to ensure that you all get the most out of screen time, instead of relying on it unnecessarily. Decide on rules and stick to them. PS This includes mom and dad too! Balance, routine and boundaries is what your child needs, and creates a happier home environment for all.

“The point of parenting isn’t to have all the answers before we start out but instead to figure it out on the go as our children grow, because as they do, so will we”. -Bridgett Miller



  1. Aduc, T (2018). Excessive Screen Time: When Should We Worry. ADHD in Focus, 6(2): 10-11.
  2. American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Children and Watching TV. Facts Fam 2001;54:1-2
  3. Sigman A. The impact of screen media on children: A Eurovision for Parliament. In: Clouder cet al.eds. Improving the quality of childhood in Europe 2012. Vol3. European Parliament group on the Quality of Childhood in the European union,2012:88-121
  4. Policy statement. Media use by children younger than 2 years old. Pediatrics, Nov2011;Vol128/5