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Column originally published Sep 26, 2017

Parents Need To Control Screen Time

Question: We have three young children. Our oldest daughter just started grade 4. Several of her classmates got a smartphone this year. She is bugging us to get her one. Our second son is seven; he loves playing videogames and watching YouTube videos. Our youngest son is four, but he tries to catch up with his older brother on videogames and TV. I am not sure how to set limits. Both of us use computer and smartphones at home also. We know we may not be setting the best example. Do you have any suggestion for us?


Use of electronics is a real challenge for modern family, you are clearly not alone. As a paediatrician, I have seen many families struggle with this issue. There is no single solution that will solve your problems, but I can suggest some broad ideas for you to consider.

Computers, tablets, and smartphones are the new realities. They are similar to television several decades ago. Doctors have warned that excessive time spent on watching television can be harmful; it is still true today. Parents should avoid putting TVs in children’s rooms, even if it is not hooked up to cable or satellite. If no one is watching the TV program, turn it off.

Use of any screen in the evening can affect sleep. The light emitting from electronic screens can affect melatonin in the brain, which makes us feel tired at night. Turn off all screens one hour before bedtime. Some evening rituals like taking a bath, reading a book, or listening to music, can help children to calm down and fall asleep. Make sure that they have good physical activities during the day can get them physically tired at night and promote sleep. Don’t allow long naps after school.

Your oldest daughter doesn’t need a smartphone now. Some parents mistakenly believe that this can improve security; their children can call them if there is an emergency. It rarely happens. Unfortunately, cyberbullying is a serious and increasingly common problem. Young children with smartphones are much more likely to be victims. She can also get distracted by phone calls and messages.

If you decide to give her a smartphone when she is older, you should lay down some ground rules first. Monitor the apps that she uses, make sure they are age appropriate, as well as messages that she sends and receives. Watch for cyberbullying and sexting (sending and receiving sexual images). Make her feel comfortable to talk to you if there is any problem on line. Try to get her to use electronics in the living room so that you can monitor what is going on.

All portable electronics should go to your room for overnight charging so that children cannot use them at night, because this will really affect their sleep and their education.

You have to set limits on screen time for all your children. Very little is learned on watching YouTube videos. Some videogames can be educational, but most are just fun to play, and can be harmful. Children should spend no more than one to two hours on screen a day, less is better. Work on other outdoor or indoor physical and recreational activities that they are interested in.

Your youngest son is trying to imitate his older brother. Spend quality time with him reading and playing; avoid using television or videos as babysitter. Turn off your smartphone and TV at meal time. Talk to each other instead of watching a screen. Parents have to set an example for their children. Wait until they are in bed before turning your computer on for work.

These are tough decisions; but who said raising children is easy!