Screen Time for Kids – the 3 Basic Principles

I really admire those mums who exist without screens in their homes.  Kids are forced to use their imagination instead of being entertained and they probably don’t face the pressure of monitoring screen time like the rest of us.  However, I made the decision to have screens in my house and as a result I’m constantly needing to balance the use of the tv, ipads and video games with outdoor play, reading and socializing. And I know  when I hear the ‘I’m bored’ words, my kids are getting too used to being entertained rather than entertaining themselves.  However, recently I noticed the parameters around screen time slip a little and I became more aware that the shows they were watching  contained my violence and adult themes.  It didn’t concern me  how much they were watching, because we had good boundaries around when screens could be watched, it was more WHAT they were watching.   

So to find out more I attended a talk last week about raising kids in a digital world and was a little bit alarmed by what the speaker was saying.  We were informed that sites like Kids YouTube sometimes contained hidden adult images and videos within them, even seemingly innocent cartoons like Peppa Pig and PJ Mask!  I immediately started thinking about the times I’d let my 2-year-old watch PJ Mask on YouTube.  She also talked about  

Also as kids get older we need to be across what they’re exposing themselves to, especially as they enter the world of googling and  social media.  They need to know how to handle bullying online and immediately report back any inappropriate content.  Lately my older kids (7 and 8) have been asking for more grown up movies, which I thought was a fair enough request.  However, I’ve noticed the parameters around what they were watching slip and as a result their sleep was affected.  They even started turning a night light on because they were afraid.  What I’ve realized was once again I needed to be the pilot of the digital plane, rather than the passenger.  In other words, I needed to establish healthy boundaries in the digital playing field.

Perhaps the most valuable advice I received from the talk I attended last week was learning about the 3 Bs.  Boundaries, Basic Needs and Boredom.


the 3 Basic Principles


Piloting the digital plane means we need to take control of what our kids are watching, when they’re watching it and how much they’re watching. This can really vary depending on ages of the kids, how active each family is and what works for your household. Up until now the biggest technology boundary in our house was how much was watched. 

How much – My 8-year-old boy is very interested in technology and video games, so the boundary has been video games only on the weekend (including Friday afternoon) for one hour each day. Sometimes it’s been a bit longer depending on the occasion and how much exercise he’s had. However, I have to admit it’s been a challenge keeping my 2-year-old away when he’s playing. The kids also know that Friday and Saturday night is movie night and sometimes they’re allowed to watch tv during the week after school once they’ve exercised and done their homework. This works for our household and so far I’ve felt this has been a good balance, mostly because I know the kids basic needs are being met. These include, getting enough outdoor play, sleep, interaction with others, nutrition and one on one time. This was also a key message from the talk I attended. If you feel your child is getting their needs met (depending on age and the child), then it’s probably fine for screen time.

When – Being is charge of the plane also means no screens before bed and before school. The reason for this is the light from screens, especially blue screens can deeply affect a child’s sleep. Also watching tv before school can affect how they absorb information following this.

Where – Keeping screens out of bedrooms at night is a great way to stay in the cockpit of the plane. If mobile phones and other devices are out of your child’s bedroom at night, he or she won’t be able to stay up late playing games or messaging friends. This can also stop your child being disturbed in the night by messages or notifications. Something that’s highly recommended is keeping the dining area and mealtimes screen free, as this is the place for interacting, eating mindfully and learning about each other. Basic rule of thumb is – keep screens in public zones in the house where you can monitor what they’re watching and listening to. Mostly so you can monitor what and who they’re exposing themselves to.

What – This is the big one which can fly under the radar pretty quickly if you’re not across it. Who would have thought YouTube Kids would be such a free for all!  If kids are surfing the web, chances are adult themes and violence is flashing up on screen. A suggestion here is using Family Zone (a platform for managing the content of what your kids are seeing) or install children filtering devices on all scree

Basic Needs

Something most of us know instinctively – is when the basic needs of our kids are out of whack. When they haven’t had enough fresh air, socializing, nutrition, sleep and play. Neuroscience tells us that children have 7 basic developmental needs. Relationships, sleep, language, physical movement, play, nutrition and executive function skills. These areas need to be tended to before screen time. For example, when children play face to face with others rather than by themselves on a screen, they develop important life skills. These include getting along with other people, being independent and learning how to sort out conflicts and problems. Kids also need time in nature. It helps to calm their brains, encourages them to be physically active and helps them to enter mind-wandering mode (daydreaming).

If your child isn’t eating because they’re too busy watching screens or playing video games, then one of their basic developmental needs isn’t being met. There have been times when my eldest boy would swear, he’d had a bath or eaten his dinner and then (surprise surprise) I would find out there had been no dinner or bath. This is a red flag for ‘enough screen time’.


What has become very clear to me, particularly over the past year as my kids get older, is the NECESSITY for them to be bored. My daughter went through an ‘I’m bored’ staged, which freaked me out completely! I can honestly say in my entire life I have never been bored. As kids we would spend every second of the day creating and imagining and being bored was out of the question. We entertained ourselves, we weren’t entertained. So when I hear those ‘I’m bored words’, it’s simply key for the kids are too used to being entertained. It’s key for ‘no more screen time for a while’. We owe it to our kids to allow them to become bored so they can dig deep and tap into their imagination.

Overall when it comes to screen time, I think it can really be a great addition to a family. As long as it’s used for problem solving and relaxation. It’s when it becomes a crutch for kids to be entertained that it becomes a problem. If the 3 Bs (basic needs, boundaries and balance) are introduced into a household, it can definitely help us be a lot more in control of that digital plane. When we know what is being watched and are confident that basic needs are being met, I think we can relax a bit more with raising kids in a digital world.

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