Managing children's screen time

Screen time is a term used to describe how much time children spend looking and interacting with screens, including smartphones, tablets, computers and televisions. 

Screens have become increasingly a part of children's lives and can be helpful and enjoyable for families. They can offer time for children to connect with friends and extended family, be creative and learn.

Screens are often used for homework, education at school, communication, leisure and entertainment. As screens can be used for a range of different purposes, it can be difficult to categorise and manage screen time.

While screen time has many benefits, excessive time spent in front of a screen can impact many aspects of a child's growth and development. It can impact children's:

  • physical health
  • mental wellbeing
  • ability to form social connections
  • sleep.

Did you know?

Parents are becoming increasingly concerned about children's excessive screen time use and are identifying it as one of the biggest health problems facing children today.

Recommended screen time for Australian children

Screen time has a direct impact on your child's physical activity levels. Generally, children who spend more time on screens tend to be less physically active. To maximise physical activity, the less screen time the better. 

The national guidelines for screen time are a part of the overall 24-hour movement guidelines. These guidelines provide recommendations on physical activity, sleep and screen time for children and young people.


Screen time guidelines for children and young adults

  • children younger than 2 years: no sedentary screen time
  • children aged 2–5 years: no more than one hour per day; less is better
  • children and young people aged 5–17 years: no more than 2 hours of sedentary recreational screen time per day, this does not include required schoolwork. Less is better.

Screen time habits of children and young adults

Recent studies from the Australian Institute of Family Studies suggest that up to 83% of preschoolers and 85% of primary school-aged children exceed the recommended screen time guidelines. With the rise of technology, social media, and the COVID-19 pandemic, these statistics have likely increased.

Boys are more likely to spend their screen time on electronic games and TV as they grow up, whereas girls are more likely to use computers and social networking sites or applications.

Did you know?

By the teenage years, up to 30% of a child’s waking time is spent in front of a screen, averaging:

  • 159 minutes of TV
  • 60 minutes of computers and
  • 45 minutes of gaming.

10 tips to help reduce screen time

Set family guidelines and expectations

Establishing clear guidelines for screen time at home can benefit your child’s long-term health and success. To do this, the first step is understanding:

  • how often your child is using a screen
  • where they are using a screen
  • what screens they are using
  • when they are using a screen.

Knowing this can help you set boundaries and limit their usage. Guidelines to consider may include:

  • keeping screen time in line with the recommendations for your child’s age group
  • limiting screen time viewing to programs the whole family can watch
  • turning off the television or computer when the program finishes
  • limiting recreational screen time.

Having children involved in the decision-making will help create joint family agreement and ownership. 

Monitor screen time and adapt

Monitor your child's overall weekly time in front of screens. If your child exceeds the recommended guidelines, set some clear expectations in line with the recommendations. This may include limiting recreational television watching, surfing the net or playing computer games, and replacing these with other activities that your child enjoys.

Create phone free zones

As a family, you can discuss and decide which areas of the home should be screen-free. This could include places like bedrooms, as screens before bedtime can delay sleep and negatively impact sleep quality. You could set expectations around screens only being used in shared family areas to assist in monitoring screen use.

Schedule screen free hours

Scheduling set times during the day when screens can be used helps:

  • manage your child’s expectations
  • maximise time for physical activity
  • limit excess screen time
  • reduce the content that your child may consume. 

Discuss screens and schoolwork

Once your child begins school, it can be useful to discuss as a family how to best utilise screens. This will help reduce excessive use and help set boundaries for personal use, downtime use and the requirements of education and schoolwork.

Monitor what your child is accessing

Monitor what your child is accessing to ensure it is safe and appropriate. It is important to be open and honest about monitoring screen use and ensure this isn’t done in secret. Depending on your child’s age, this may include:

  • sitting with your child and watching what they are watching
  • testing mobile applications yourself before allowing your child to use them
  • checking the TV, video game or movie ratings of your child’s content to ensure they are age-appropriate
  • asking your child to explain what they are watching or playing, such as what the objective of the game is, what the TV show is about or how it is making them feel.

You can use this as an opportunity to educate your child about online safety, what appropriate behaviour looks like and how much time they should spend in front of a screen. As your child gets older, they will want more freedom from this. With proper early education, they will have the right tools to navigate the online world and sometimes even self-regulate the amount of screen time they have each day.

See Online safety for more information.

Role model

Like most parenting decisions, it is important to model the preferred behaviour to your children. While screens are part of everyday life, the less you use one as a parent, the less likely your child will want to replicate that behaviour.

Being engaged with your children and giving them your full attention through face-to-face interactions will help create better expectations around screens in the home.

Schedule outdoor family time

When children are bored, they crave stimulation, company, communication or opportunities to develop and grow. However, children often turn to screens first out of habit. 

It is a good idea to schedule time to put down the screen and get active as a family. You can offer your children some choices about what activities, games or sports they want to play. This may make them more likely to participate if they get a choice.

Children won't think twice about their devices by getting outside regularly on weekends and after school. They will be too busy having fun with you!

Have indoor activities readily accessible

When your child is bored, it isn’t always the worst thing as it can generate creativity and innovation. Try to guide your child towards screen-free activities that can foster your child’s creative side. These could include:

  • drawing
  • painting
  • puzzles
  • board games
  • dancing
  • reading
  • imagination.

Be realistic

Screens are now part of our everyday life, whether we grew up with them or not. Going for a zero-tolerance policy to screen use is rarely realistic or reasonable for older children. If your child exceeds the recommended daily screen time limit, it's best to try to reduce this slowly over time and get them on board.

Suggested tip

Try to ensure screens don't replace traditional activities or experiences. 

Many activities now have an online alternative, however, it is important to ensure that children don't miss out on the developmental benefits of traditional experiences. For example, colouring in can now be done on a mobile application. In saying this, children benefit more from participating in traditional colouring activities as they can develop their fine motor skills and pencil grip. 

As a parent, ask yourself: can this activity be done without a screen?

Positive effects of screen time in a child’s life 

Screens are likely to be a part of your child’s life. Knowing how and when to use them appropriately can have a super powerful and positive impact.

Connecting with distant friends and family

Children learn most from interactive, face-to-face, two-way conversations. However, video chatting (using WhatsApp, FaceTime or Zoom) may be of benefit for children to keep in touch with distant friends and family.

Skill development

Older children may use the internet to help learn or develop new skills, such as a language or a new hobby. Children may also develop research skills from school or homework that allow them to expand their knowledge on a certain area they are learning about at school.


Social platforms can be a useful way of forming and maintaining friendships. It can also play an important role in keeping children connected, especially if children are sick or in hospital. Children may also learn to develop empathy and passion about certain values.


Connection during challenging times

For children with medical conditions, social media platforms allow them to connect with others with similar conditions and provide opportunities for self-expression and increasing awareness among peers about their condition. 

Negative health effects of too much screen time

Health professionals are concerned about excess screen time and the quality of content viewed as evidence is showing a direct link to some negative child health outcomes. 

In the last 5-10 years, children’s access to and time spent on a wide range of screen devices has dramatically increased. The research on the effects of children’s screen time is starting to emerge.

Weight management

Children who spend excessive time in front of screens:

  • are unlikely to be getting the recommended levels of physical activity (60 minutes aday for 5-17 year olds) which can lead to poor weight management
  • often eat food without listening to hunger cues
  • can become distracted and consume 'empty calorie’ foods which are high in salt, fat and sugar and low in nutrient value
  • are more likely to be influenced by junk food advertising and seek out poor food choices.


Screens such as TVs, phones and tablets release blue light, which blocks the release of melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone released by your brain in response to darkness. This hormone helps your child fall asleep. 

The light emitted from screens has been shown to prevent sleep onset in children when used in the evening or just before sleep. Children who spend excessive time in front of screens are, therefore, unlikely to be getting the recommended levels of quality sleep (8-11 hours for 5-17year olds).  This can impact overall sleep time which can affect children's:

  • attention
  • concentration and
  • behaviour in the days that follow.

Avoid screens at least one hour before bed and keep screens out of the bedroom to help your child's sleep. 

Chronic low sleep in children is linked to:

  • fluctuating weight management
  • poor mood
  • behaviour issues. 

Communication skills

Excessive screen use can isolate children from what is happening around them. They can miss out on important interactions and learning opportunities that promote communication skills. For example:

  • families may miss out on the everyday interactions or opportunities that help build healthy reltionships
  • friendships may also be affected as children sit alongside each other on screens instead of interacting and communicating with each other
  • children can miss opportunities to develop language and speech through play and interactions with others. Depending on the level of interrupted screen time, this issue can be ongoing. 

Exposure to potentially harmful information

There is evidence showing that children who watch violent content, are more likely to:

  • have pessimistic or negative outlooks on life
  • show aggressive behaviour
  • perceive aggressive behaviour as normal.

The internet and social media platforms provide children with the opportunity to exchange inappropriate and hurtful messages or images. Teach your children what is appropriate to share online and to think twice before posting messages and images. 

See Online safety for more information.

Neck and back strain

While there are established guidelines for ergonomic use of desktop computers, providing guidelines that fit all types of screens is challenging due to their varying sizes and environments they are used in. Bad posture during excessive screen time can lead to your child experiencing physical problems like neck and back pain. 

Ideally, screens should be positioned just below your child’s line of vision with their neck in a neutral position. 

Eye health

When children stare at the screen for an extended period of time, they may blink less than normal which can dry their eyes. This can lead to eye strain and fatigue throughout the day.The accumulation of screens throughout the day at home and school can increase children's risk.

Research has shown that children who spend more time outdoors are less likely to develop short-sightedness as they age. Short-sightedness is when children can see things up close but have trouble seeing things far away.

Did you know? 

Most social media platforms including Instagram, Facebook, TikTok and X require users to be at least 13 years old. 

1 in 6 primary school-age children have their own social media account regardless of this requirement. 

Online safety

With today’s rapidly advancing technical world surrounding children, it can often feel overwhelming for parents to know how to understand and talk about safety online with their children. 

See Online safety for some useful tips to help your children stay safe online.

Last updated Monday 6th May 2024