Parents: Tips to prevent screen time addiction in children 



Parents these days have the option of entertaining their children with a phone or an iPad to prevent them from running around and being hyper. And no judgement here! Sometimes our working mums and dads just need a break. Our devices can also be used to access educational videos and games, which can teach children new skills. Controlled screen time is a-okay. 

What gets concerning is when it gets too much. If a kid is shoved a device each time he or she whines or cries, or when the parent is working too much at home, it takes away opportunities to learn other important skills. Kids need to pick up psychomotor skills when playing outdoors, and also learn social skills when devising imaginative games with their friends and family.

Excessive screen time can lead to addiction. Even us adults who are cooped up at home during Covid-19 binged TV shows more. If we found it hard to break away from being glued to their devices, what more little children with developing brains, who have no self-control? It is paramount for us to prevent bad screen-related habits for our children. 

Can children get addicted to screen time?

The short answer is yes. With e-learning becoming widespread even in the current post-pandemic environment, it’s difficult to draw boundaries between screen time usage for school purposes, or simply for entertainment. 

Statistics from a US study from as early as 2015 show that children experience non stop exposure to various screen time sources. Eight- to 10-year-olds spend nearly eight hours a day on various media, and 84% of children and teenagers have Internet access. Plus, toddlers are also at risk. Increasingly younger children are having access to smartphones. Don’t be surprised when you see kids as young as two to three working their way around an iPad to get to their YouTube Kids or games! Yep, they can’t wear their own socks but they know just the right buttons to tap.

Again, that in and of itself is not a bad thing. But screen time addiction leads to children sacrificing their health, safety and well-being. Children glued to their devices may lose out on exercise and sleep; be unable to form meaningful in-person relationships; or may even fall victim to predators on the Internet who exploit gullible children for drugs or sex.

What are the symptoms of screen time addiction?

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Signs and symptoms of children with screen time addiction all point to one thing – tuning out the world around them. 

You can tell if your child is being an excessive screen time addict if their device usage leads to any of these: 

  • Interferes with their school life and their ability to focus on their schoolwork;
  • Affects their ability to conduct meaningful social relationships; or
  • Causes them to be unable to sleep or want to get out of their house.

Being aware of such struggles is the first and most important step to tackling excessive digital use. As parents, putting measures in place to help children limit their screen time is more effective the younger the children are. From birth to age five, children are the most impressionable. Don’t be afraid to set rules here. Children need structure. 

With consistency and commitment from both parent and child, there are various ways to reverse their screen time addiction so that they develop healthy and responsible screen time habits.

How do I break my child’s screen addiction?

1. Set limits on screen time

The most immediate and implementable method is to set time limits on screen time. 20 minutes a day after homework is done. 30 minutes on Saturday morning. Set a timer and keep to it. 

There are recommended screentime limits from different sources. The Canadian Paediatric Society recommends:

  • No watching of videos for children younger than two years old.
  • Less than one hour a day of regular screen time for children two to five years old.
  • Avoid screen time at least one hour before bedtime.
  • Maintain daily time slots where screentime is prohibited, like during mealtimes and at large family gatherings, for instance.

2. Family media policy

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In the long run, it pays off to devise a “family media policy”. The purpose of doing so is to create a guidebook for the whole family that stipulates where, when and why digital devices can and cannot be used by children, for instance:

  • No screen time use on public transport to educational videos or games to curb the habit to turn to looking at a device whenever one is bored. 
  • If children are older, setting restrictions on destructive media content children should stay away from strictly – like pornography and violence. At the same time, parents can encourage meaningful screen time usage by teaching how to recognise age-appropriate content. 
  • Turn off the WiFi connection after 9pm every night
  • No Netflix from 5pm until late as it is dedicated family time.

3. Parents, get more involved 

Track how long children spend on watching TV, and learn what type of content they prefer to consume. Often, this requires parents to spend time with children watching what they watch, and not simply leaving them to their devices, literally.

In general, parents need to own the important role of creating a culture of keeping media content consumption openly talked about within the family. Talk also about school’s e-learning content, for instance. Is it helpful and productive? These conversations about digital consumption are good opportunities to teach about digital content. 

4. Parental control apps 

It’s easier to prevent screen time addiction when children are younger. That’s why it’s recommended to delay giving a device to your kid for as long as possible. But there comes a day when you would want to give them a device. 

For older children and teenagers in secondary schools who own their own devices and have the Internet at their fingertips, parents can monitor what they do online through parental control apps. Installing it on their phones allows parents to customize filters on websites, block searches, and set screen time usage limits.

And there are network-based parental control solutions too like the M1 Cyber Guardian. It cannot be uninstalled as it is not app-based. Activating it at just $2.70 per month allows you to monitor your child’s online activities and block harmful online content from them – at home or on-the-go. You can also choose what sites they can surf on and even limit their surfing time. 

5. Use less screen time yourself 

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Lastly, model healthy screen use. If you don’t like your child to watch and eat, for instance, you yourself cannot be found typing messages during dinner or watching a Youtube video. Children pick up inconsistencies between what we say and what we’ll do.

Take intentional steps to bring kids out and show that life exists beyond mobile devices. Organise ample outdoor trips to encourage exercise and play. Thankfully, the whole pandemic restrictions have almost fully been lifted now, so you can also check out the huge range of kids’ activities organised by malls or spend time at indoor playgrounds. 

Technology use has changed rapidly in the past decade – and it will continue to change faster than we may ever be able to manage. Early rules on healthy screen time usage form appropriate boundaries and habits in the long run. As children get older, it is also important to teach them to judge for themselves what content they should consume, what content never to access, and how long they should be on their screens for.

Protect your kids with M1’s Cyber Guardian 

You can’t always be by their side. Activate M1 Cyber Guardian for just $2.70 per month and you can block undesirable content and limit your kids’ screen time. 

You could even access activity reports and manage their online activities through your own device. As the Cyber Guardian is a network-based solution, there is no app installation or uninstallation. As long as they’re on M1, they’ll always be protected. 

Not on M1 yet? 

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