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What are the impact of screens on child development and how to make the best use of them at home ?

#parenting , #screen time , #children development

A blog article by Anne Peymirat, author of Unplug our Children, Find The Right Balance At Home 

If you have a young child, you may wonder what the impact of screen is, but as parent of an older child or a teen, you probably already know when your children are glued to their screens with no hope to stop them easily !

Apart from the impact on family life, what do scientists and neuro-scientists tell us about an intensive use of electronics ?


It is interesting to see that studies point to a wide range of problems that come with screen :

-      Health : children tend to get shortsighted, have less sleep (links to studies : vision and sleep)

-      Learning : the more time children spend in front of a screen the less vocabulary they have (Baby Einstein study). It also impacts concentration.

-      Behaviour : children and teens get desensitized and tend to be more violent and take more risks


What can you to avoid these pitfalls ? 

Parents should ensure that children get enough time to do their homework properly (with no rush), exercise physically outdoor or indoor, play with their toys or board games and do chores.


Normally, once this is done, there is little left for screens ! Recommendations by specialists suggests that children should spend between ½ hour to 2 hours per day on screens depending on age (link to Belgium website Yapaka - in French).

What can you do to facilitate the implementation of screen times at home ?

-      Agree rules with your partner if you have one. If you do not, children will take advantage of it

-      Use parental control and time limits on your devices (wifi set up, Family link on google, Apple Screen time,….)

-      Set up a Drop Box : the place where every electronic device should be (none should stay in your children’s bedroom)

-      Have screen time as a reward : your child can do their screen time once they have done everything you expect from them, in particular homework and chores

-      Prepare your child to your rules and give them a few days before changing to new rules

-      Be empathic with your children, it creates frustration to have to limit one’s time on screen especially for children with intense and impulsive temperament (cf. Empathic Listening, a technique from the Calmer Parenting approach).


It may not be easy to set up rules on the use of screen but it is really important as everything is done by the industry to make everyone stay longer (cf. the Netflix reportage : The Social Dilemma). If not you, nobody will do it ! You are the key to teach your children to have a reasonable use of screens !

Questions & Answers

1/ At which age should children have a smartphone of their own ?


Very often, children get their first smartphone when they enter middle school. They usually attend a school further from their home and they have irregular time schedule. Parents feel safer. But It is not because a majority of children have one that your child should as well ! First, it depends on your values and your readiness to ‘manage’ a new device. Then, it depends if your child i can take care of his/her properties and is mature enough to respect your rules. It the answer is no, you can start with a telephone and upgrade later.

Parents are often concerned that their child will feel left out as smartphones and social networks are so much in use amongst youngsters. In that case, I recommend that you first teach your child to respect screen rules on other devices at home. Once he/she is ready (after a few months, not just a few days), you can go for a smartphone.


2/ Can you be more specific about the use of screen as a reward ?


Rewards are motivating. Have children and teens earn their screen time. This will make them take your values, rules and routines much more seriously. Children can earn their screen time by cooperating, this includes getting off the screen when they’re told to. For example, you child has 15 minutes screen time before dinner. They can earn an extra 15 minute screen time when they have stopped on time they day before.


3/ Why using empathic listening can help with the limitation of screens ?


Screens are very addictive. It is never time the “right” time to stop : a new episode is about to start, a reward can be earned by playing an extra 2 minutes, new likes are coming, etc.). As a consequence, the child will be left frustrated when he/she will be told to stop and switch off their device.

Use empathic Listening whenever you can hear, see or even just sense that your child or teen is upset or annoyed. Accept that they are likely to be upset at first when you get back in charge of the screen time rules and routines. Empathic Listening helps children and teens to feel understood. This takes a lot of the sting out of unwelcome rules. And when children and teens feel understood, they become less and less likely to sulk, shout, argue, misbehave or sneak in some extra screen time when you’re pre-occupied with something else.


4/ Should the drop box be accessible or should it be locked ?


The purpose of the drop box is mainly to facilitate your life. At a glance, you know if your children respect your rules. If all devices are there, that is fine, if not, you can take action. It shows your children that if they are reasonable, you trust that their using their smartphones and other devices as you wish. However, if you have an impulsive and immature child, he may find it difficult not to go and take a device behind your back or at night. In that case, you may want for a while to lock them up. Do not threat your child, just do it.


5/ If my children are older, is it too late to change ?


It is easier to start early as you give them habits. But if, as parent, you feel the use of screen is not right for your child, it is important to take action. Getting back in charge is possible at any age by using the same techniques as mentioned before. The difference will be that it takes more energy as your children will be reluctant to change. More “change management” skills on your part will be required !