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15th Feb 2024

How to balance screen time and play time (without causing war)

Aisling Keenan

In our ever-connected (over-connected?) world, the trade-off between screen time and playtime has become a thoroughly modern parenting challenge – here are some ways to strike the balance

Are you constantly feeling guilty about how much screen time your child gets? But, at the same time, wondering how the hell you’d get your bits done without it? Us too. 

We’re always painfully aware of our children’s development, whether it’s on track, whether we’re giving too much of something and not enough of another. But recent studies have underscored the importance of striking a balance between digital engagement (TVs, iPads, phones) and traditional play. An Irish Heart Foundation report highlighted recently that children aged between 2 and 5 spend an average of 2 hours and 26 minutes in front of screens each day. 

While screens can of course offer educational content and entertainment (Miss Rachel has done more for our kids’ vocab than we’d like to admit) overexposure might impede cognitive and social development. 

With that in mind, here are some ways to build more positive screen-use habits: 

  1. Set those limits

Establish clear boundaries for daily screen time based on age and individual needs. The Irish Pediatric Association recommends no more than 1 hour of screen time per day for children aged 2 to 5.

  1. Quality content matters

Opt for educational apps, games, and shows that promote learning and creativity. A Growing Up in Ireland study found that educational content positively influenced children’s language development.

3. Make a tech-free zone for kids 

Designate certain areas and/or times at home as tech-free to encourage face-to-face interactions, like say at family meal times or for a couple of hours before bed time.

  1. Get outside! 

Sure, it sounds obvious. But where indoors with a screen seems safer and easier all round, exploring outdoors encourages imagination in a way that technology struggles to do. The Children’s Outdoor Play and Learning (COOL) Initiative says that “outdoor play enhances cognitive and motor skills”.

  1. Show, don’t tell

If you are absolutely clung to your iPhone for dear life from 7am to 7pm, you’re showing your child that that’s the done thing. Demonstrate healthy tech habits by limiting your own screen time and engaging in activities that involve your child.

6. When all else fails…

Bribery. Okay no, we’re joking – showing your kids that manipulation in the form of bribes is a good way to get anything is not advised. Although we’d be lying if we said it didn’t happen in our households from time to time. Don’t tell the mam’s Whatsapp group, pls & tks.