Should Parents Limit Screen Time? 

We get it — in a world where 68% of children are using more than one device at the same time, restricting screen usage can feel impossible. So, should parents limit screen time, or is this a losing battle not worth the fight? 

The reality is that excessive screen usage can have very real impacts on your kids’ mental health, quality of sleep, and ability to pay attention — to name but a few of the effects. So limiting screen time is vital.

We’re going to take you through the expert advice on screen time limits, why these recommendations are in place, and how you can work towards reaching them.  

Let’s dive in. 

Related Read: We Tried & Tested 8 of the Best Screen Time Reduction Apps!

First, How Much Screen Time is Too Much? (Screen Time Recommendations By Age)

We hear the term screen time so often it’s worth checking in with what it actually means. When it comes to limiting screen time and whether we should, what are we even talking about?

Let’s turn to the experts.

Medical researchers define screen time as:

Screen Time Definition: “any time spent on screen devices including television, handphones, tablets, computers, and video games.” 

With all the devices on the list, it certainly can add up quickly — not to mention the dual (or more) device usage that is so tempting for kids. 

It’s particularly important to limit screen time for very young kids. That’s according to both the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), a partner organization to the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the World Health Organization (WHO).

The WHO recommends no sedentary screen time for children younger than 2 years old.

The WHO also advises a time limit of one hour a day for kids between the ages of two and five. The AACAP’s advice is similar — non-educational screen time should be limited to an hour a weekday but three hours on weekends.

As for older kids, neither organization gives specific numbers but the AACAP recommends encouraging healthy screen habits and limiting the time they spend on their devices.

Here is a summary of the screen time recommendations from both organizations.

American Academy of Pediatrics Screen Time Recommendations by Age

0 - 18 months
Limit screen use to video chatting with an adult (for example, when a parent is out of town).
18 - 24 months
Limit screen time to watching educational programming with a caregiver.
2 - 5 years old
Limit non-educational screen time to one hour during weekdays and three during weekends.
6 years and older
Limit activities that include screens and encourage healthy habits. These good habits include, like no screens during family meals and outings, using parental controls (More on this below!), turning off screens and removing them from bedrooms 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime.

Source: The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP)


World Health Organization Screen Time Recommendations by Age

The recommendations from the WHO focus on younger children, 5 and under.

Younger than 2 years old
No sedentary screen time at all.
2 - 5 years
Sedentary screen time should be limited to one hour. Less is better.

Source: The World Health Organization

There are very important reasons behind their focus on limiting screen time among pre-schoolers. 

As this study finds, while screens can have benefits such as helping with early literacy, it’s vital to be aware of the serious downsides. 

Children under 2 years old who went over the screen time guidelines were more likely to have lower physical motor skills and hyperactivity. What’s more, children who had more than two hours of screen time a day were six times more likely to have problems with attention when compared to those who spent less than 30 minutes. 

The WHO specifically refers to the dangers of sedentary (inactive or seated) screen time for young children, as it can harm mental and physical well-being. Fewer hours of sedentary screen time can help stave off obesity and other diseases later in life.

(For more science-backed advice on how to limit screen time for toddlers, head here.)

It’s important to note that when it comes to your kids’ physical health, screen time can also be a plus! Video games and apps that provide yoga and dancing instruction, for example, can be a massive motivator to get them moving. 

That’s why rather than go for sedentary screen time, opt for the type that encourages healthy physical activity. Some apps can help them explore nature, motivating them to get on their feet and move around the world. Check out this list from Tufts University.

Should Parents Limit Screen Time? [5 Reasons Why You Should]

The short answer is, yes — experts advise that we should be limiting screen time for our children, regardless of their age. 

In fact, we should be limiting screen time for ourselves too! As this Pew Research survey shows, nearly half of teens feel their parents are “at least sometimes distracted by their phones when they are trying to talk to them.” While there are no specific guidelines for adults, experts tend to agree that limiting screen time to two hours a day is a good idea.

As for our kids, too much screen time can be even more of an issue, affecting their development in all sorts of ways. It can impact their:

(Check out this study for more details.)

It’s also been linked to decreased language skills and speech delays.

For older kids, the AACAP tells explains, too much screen time can lead to:

  • Sleep issues
  • Lower grades
  • Reading fewer books
  • Spending less time with family and friends
  • Not enough outdoor and physical activity
  • Weight problems
  • Mood problems
  • Poor self-image 
  • Fear of missing out
  • Less time learning other ways to relax and have fun

The reality is, that most kids are going way over the limits, meaning we have to intervene.

We’ll take you through why you should help your kids limit their screen time and how to know when you should step in.

Reason #1: If Your Child’s Screen Time Exceeds the Recommended Guidelines

If you and your kids are struggling to stick within the guidelines, know that you’re certainly not alone.

According to this study:

“the global prevalence of not meeting screen time guidelines among children aged below 5 ranged between 70% to 90%.” 

While there are no specific time guidelines for older children, it’s clear that it’s a struggle to help them maintain healthy screen habits.

According to the AACAP: 

“On average, children ages 8-12 in the United States spend 4-6 hours a day watching or using screens, and teens spend up to 9 hours.”

The pandemic made an already challenging situation even more so. This study entitled Screen Time Use Among US Adolescents During the COVID-19 Pandemic shows how the pandemic made adolescents reliant on screens for everything from their education to their social lives. 

Looking at a diverse group of students between the ages of 10 and 14, the researchers found that they were, on average, spending 7.7 hours a day on non-school screen time during the early stages of the pandemic. This was significantly higher than estimates of pre-pandemic levels. This extreme reliance on screens has been a tough habit to break — with sometimes severe consequences for our kids’ wellbeing.

Pew Research reports that while kids sometimes feel happy and peaceful without their devices, as many as 44% say going without their screens makes them feel anxious. Following the expert guidelines can help them structure their relationships to their screens. 

Especially as they get older, it doesn’t have to be about taking the screens away completely. It’s about finding a balance where they can reap the benefits without suffering from the negative effects.

Reason #2: If Your Child is Showing Symptoms of Inattention

If you are noticing that your child is having trouble concentrating and is easily distracted, their screens may be to blame. 

Researchers are discovering there’s a direct link between increased screen time in pre-schoolers and worse inattention problems. Children with more than 2 hours a day of screen time were 7.7 times more likely to experience symptoms associated with ADHD.

The results of this study are similar. Screen time was positively linked to attention difficulties. 

Attention difficulties can have all sorts of implications for your kids’ behavior, development, and academic performance. So it’s really important to get to the bottom of what’s causing it.

As the research notes, there are reasons other than screen time that your children may be experiencing inattention issues, some of which could have a medical root. If you are concerned, it’s important to speak with your doctor to get expert advice that addresses your child’s unique needs. 

Reason #3: If Your Child is Experiencing Sleep Disturbances 

Sleep is vital for our kids’ brain development — so much so that not getting enough sleep is recognized as a major public health issue for children. 

When children don’t get the sleep they need, it can affect their academic performance, attention, and memory. They are also more at risk for emotional and behavioral issues and physical problems like obesity.

The research is clear (check out this study and this one), too much screen time, particularly just before bed, can have all sorts of detrimental effects. These include:

  • Disrupted sleep patterns
  • Bedtime resistance (not wanting to go to bed when it’s time to)
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Sleep disorders
  • Decreased academic performance

Researchers point out that there are two important points to consider here:

  • How much screen time they are having
  • When they use their screens

Their recommendations are that more than 2 hours of evening use and all screen use just before bed is harmful.

Reason #4: If Your Child is Experiencing Mental Health Challenges 

Post-pandemic research has shown that there is a direct correlation between screen time and anxiety and depression rates in adolescents. 

As Dr. Jason Nagata, one of the lead authors of the study tells us:

“As screen time increased, so did adolescents’ worry and stress, while their coping abilities declines.”

He adds:

“Though social media and video chat can foster social connection and support, we found that most of the adolescents’ screen use during the pandemic didn’t serve this purpose.”

This study of Canadian youth showed similar results — excessive screen time is strongly associated with mental health struggles. 

Too much screen time, as this research shows, can limit our children’s ability to interpret emotions, fuel aggressive behavior, and impact their psychological health in general. 

This study from the Yale Department of Psychiatry and Columbia School of Nursing looked at the screen time of over 5,100 9 and 10-year-olds. The results were clear. Children who had more screen time showed higher levels of what they call “internalizing problems” — symptoms that someone experiences inside themselves, like depression and anxiety. 

It’s important to acknowledge here that the causes of mental health issues are complex. While screen time can definitely be a contributing factor, it’s not necessarily the only one. If your child is struggling with depression, anxiety, or another mental health concern, talk to your doctor so that you can get specific medical advice for your child. 

And be kind to yourself. As Yale’s Dr. Marc Potenza acknowledges:

“parents are trying to navigate this complicated environment with their children without having the same lived experience when they were growing up.”

This isn’t easy.

Reason #5: If Your Child is Battling Socially

Almost inseparable from our children’s mental health and well-being is their ability to have meaningful social lives. While social media may scratch some of the itches of our desire for social interaction, when used in excess, it may be doing more harm than good. 

Pew Research reports that while 69% of children said their smartphones help them explore hobbies, only 30% said they help people their age learn social skills.

Socially, our teens are dealing with a unique set of challenges. As the AACAP warns, the internet can expose children to a range of negative and age-inappropriate content, including violent and sexual content, negative stereotypes, and substance abuse — often without us knowing. They may also see risky behavior that they might want to copy.  What’s more, screen time puts them at risk for cyberbullying.

But there’s some nuance here. 

Researchers from the Oxford, Cambridge and Cardiff Universities looked at the effects of moderate screen usage on children. They found that, if monitored and used responsibly, the right kind of screen time can have a positive impact on children’s mental health, social abilities, and emotional well-being.

And again, it’s all about moderation. 

One method is to promote shared screen time, which means engaging in content as a family or group of friends. 

As this study explains, for younger children, this can help them connect what they are viewing on the screen with everyday experiences, helping them develop language, thinking, and attention skills. 

For older children, shared screen time may be more of a challenge but it’s worth the effort.

The American Academy of Pediatrics calls this co-viewing, where you spend time together watching movies, exploring apps, playing video games, or listening to music. Not only will this promote the social side of screen time, but it will also allow you insight into the kind of content your kids are consuming. It can help you help them explore their interests and make sure that the time they do spend on their screens is done so purposefully.

As this study tells us, the important thing is monitoring them carefully so that you are in the driving seat of how they spend their screen time and how much they have.

And that’s where parental controls come in. 

How to Limit Screen Time for Your Children (Using Canopy Parental Control App)

The research all points to the fact that parents should limit screen time if we want to stave off the negative effects that too much of it can cause. The good news is, you don’t have to do this alone.

The Canopy Parental Control App allows you to both monitor and control where and when your children are on their devices — all through one app. You don’t have to do the heavy lifting all on your own!

Canopy allows you to:

  • Schedule internet-free times — dinner and bedtimes don’t have to be a struggle.
  • Track your children’s internet usage so you can gain control over which apps and websites they visit.
  • Block apps and websites that they spend too much time on.
  • Filter out harmful and block adult inappropriate content in real-time using powerful AI technology. 
  • Track their location to help keep them safe in the real world.

Fully compatible with both iOS and Android devices, the Canopy app is super simple to install.

Family tech expert Sarah Kimmel explains the features and the easy setup. (She also gives us a glowing review!)

Ready to get started? Here’s how:

  1. Sign up and start a free trial. You’re free to cancel any time. 
  2. Download the Canopy app and follow the prompts for easy installation.
  3. Download the Shield app on all the devices you want to protect.
  4. Limit how much time your children spend on their screens and how they are spending it!
  5. This is not a battle you have to fight solo.
Citations in this article
Ahmad, N., Minhat, H., Raj, D., Zulkefli, N., Parental Intervention Strategies to Reduce Screen Time Among Preschool-aged Children: A Systematic Review Malaysian Journal of Medicine and Health Sciences (2022) 18(6):295-304. doi:10.47836/mjmhs18.6.38: American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Screen Time and Children. No. 54; Updated February 2020
Anderson, M. Faverio, M. and Park E. How Teens and Parents Approach Screen Time Pew Research: March 11, 2024
Canadian Paediatric Society, Digital Health Task Force, Ottawa, Ontario. Screen time and young children: Promoting health and development in a digital world. Paediatr Child Health. 2017 Nov;22(8):461-477. doi: 10.1093/pch/pxx123. Epub 2017 Oct 9. Erratum in: Paediatr Child Health. 2018 Feb;23 (1):83. PMID: 29601064; PMCID: PMC5823000:
Carr, J., Kau, P., and Robertson, A. What are the impacts of dual-screening?; Internet Matters: 2024
Chi, J. Review: Nature Apps. Tufts University: September 3, 2019
Contie, V. Children’s sleep linked to brain development | National Institutes of Health (NIH) : August 30, 2022
Gentile DA, Reimer RA, Nathanson AI, Walsh DA, Eisenmann JC. Protective effects of parental monitoring of children's media use: a prospective study. JAMA Pediatr. 2014 May;168(5):479-84. doi: 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2014.146. PMID: 24686493.:
Harvard University: Centre on the Developing Child: Executive Function & Self-Regulation
Khoshi, A., Goodarzi, H., Eskandari, M., & Raeeszadeh, M. (2023). Evaluation of the Frequency of Academic Failure and its Influencing Factors in Medical Students of a Military Training Center. Journal of Health Reports and Technology.
Kureshi, S., Stowe, C., Francis, J., & Djalilian, H. (2023). Circadian therapy interventions for glymphatic dysfunction in concussions injuries: A narrative review. Science Progress, 106.
Muppalla SK, Vuppalapati S, Reddy Pulliahgaru A, Sreenivasulu H. Effects of Excessive Screen Time on Child Development: An Updated Review and Strategies for Management. Cureus. 2023 Jun 18;15(6):e40608. doi: 10.7759/cureus.40608. PMID: 37476119; PMCID: PMC10353947.:
Nagata JM, Cortez CA, Cattle CJ, et al. Screen Time Use Among US Adolescents During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Findings From the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study. JAMA Pediatr. 2022;176(1):94–96. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2021.4334:
Sendy, J., Alshahrani, A., Sankari, M., Sankari, S., Almotairi, A., Alnassr, S., Aleid, L., Hakami, A., & Alqurashi, M. (2023). Prevalence of Sleep Problems among Children in Saudi Arabia. International Journal of Medicine in Developing Countries.
Reid Health, Blog | How Much Screen Time is Too Much for Adults?: 2024
Tamana SK, Ezeugwu V, Chikuma J, Lefebvre DL, Azad MB, Moraes TJ, Subbarao P, Becker AB, Turvey SE, Sears MR, Dick BD, Carson V, Rasmussen C; CHILD study Investigators; Pei J, Mandhane PJ. Screen-time is associated with inattention problems in preschoolers: Results from the CHILD birth cohort study. PLoS One. 2019 Apr 17;14(4):e0213995. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0213995. PMID: 30995220; PMCID: PMC6469768.:
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Limiting screen time for a 14-year-old can be beneficial for physical health, sleep quality, mental well-being, academic performance, and social skills.

Excessive screen use can lead to sedentary behavior, sleep issues, anxiety, and decreased face-to-face interactions.


  1. Balance and Moderation: Encourage a mix of screen and non-screen activities, including exercise, reading, and hobbies.
  2. Content Quality: Prioritize educational and creative content over passive consumption like TV or social media.
  3. Parental Involvement: Discuss screen use with your teen to understand their interests and set reasonable limits.
  4. Set Boundaries: Establish rules, such as no screens during meals or an hour before bedtime.
  5. Lead by Example: Model healthy screen habits yourself to encourage similar behavior in your teen.

Flexibility and Communication:

Be open to discussing and adjusting screen time rules based on your teen’s needs and feedback. Listening to their perspective helps find a balanced approach.

A healthy screen time limit depends on your child’s age range and the type of content consumed. Please read the full article to get a detailed answer to this question.

Screen time can be damaging for kids if not managed properly. Excessive screen use is linked to various negative outcomes, including physical, mental, and emotional issues. However, moderate and purposeful screen time can have educational and social benefits.

Yes! We wrote a full article with 12 strategies to help you reduce screen time.

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