How Much Screen Time Is “Too Much”?

Most parents face the question of whether or not they are allowing their child to spend “too much” time in front of a screen.  Between TVs, video games, movies, laptops, iPads, etc., there’s a plethora of ways for children (and adults) to spend the majority of their day in front of a screen.  Although research suggests certain guidelines about how much screen time kids should have, the fact remains that this may be a very individual thing in that research gives us probabilities, not certainties.  Although two hours may work well for one child (the current recommended upper limit), it may be far too much for another.

The question is: How do you tell if your child is getting too much screen time?  Here are some of the clues that will tell you if it’s time to clamp down on the screen time for your child.

It’s all your child wants to do.  I’ve seen this first-hand.  The child who comes home and only looks forward to screen time (whether it’s tv, video games, etc.).  When offered other activities to do, the child isn’t interested, instead opting for more and more screen time.  Teachers may notice it’s all that’s talked about in class or for personal assignments and parents may notice it’s all the child talks about as well.  At this stage, parents have to make sure the child not only cuts back, but is able to develop interests outside of screen time.

Homework or chores aren’t getting done.  As soon as other responsibilities start to slip, your child is having too much screen time.  This should be obvious to parents, but sometimes kids are sneaky – they’re willing to pay the price later to lie about it in the moment.  (Again, this should be a huge clue that they are addicted to the screen time.)  For example, if your child keeps telling you he’s done with his homework so he can play video games, but you discover he’s not, there’s a problem.

This can be one of the harder things to handle.  Many parents have what seem like good rules in place, like no screen time until responsibilities are done, but for many parents, following up on all of the responsibilities is what is missing.  It can also be nearly impossible in the form of homework if your child is old enough to be in charge and teachers aren’t sharing what’s due with parents.  Sometimes it’s not until the school calls to inform that a child hasn’t been doing their homework that a parent realizes what’s been going on.  If it’s hit this stage, a clean break for a period may be needed.

Grades are suffering.  This is similar to homework not getting done, but instead of it not being done at all, it’s just being done poorly.  If kids know you’re checking up on whether or not homework is done (e.g., by asking them to show you each night and keeping in touch with teachers), they may do it, but not do it well.  Importantly, there are many reasons that grades can suffer outside of screen time so you need to make sure that this is due to screen time before you limit for this reason (feel free to limit for other reasons though).

Your kid is acting out.  The exact “why” behind this is unknown but research does show this to be one of the potential side effects of too much screen time.  It may be attention-related in that children who watch too much for them are getting used to faster-paced things and cannot sustain attention, leading to acting out.  It may be content-driven in that children who watch too much may be more accepting of the unrealistic portrayal of relationships and behaviours in media.  It may be addiction-related in that anyone who is addicted to something will experience moodiness when prevented from having their “fix”.  Screen time is no different and parents need to take action when this pops up.


The most important thing is to pay attention to your child and look for signs of change that are linked to the various types of screens our kids have access to.  Media can be a joy and a wonderful part of a childhood, but only if used appropriately and it’s up to us parents to make sure it remains that way.

By Tracy Cassels

September 08, 2014