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Limiting a Child's Use of Technology

  • anonymous Asks ...

    How many hours a day should a 9 year old be allowed to use a computer and tablet and ps3 and watch TV etc. all combined? I had heard that the recommended limit was 2 hours per day and that if you were watching TV while looking at a tablet for 1 hour that counted as 2 hours. I am embarrassed to say that my kid spends a lot more than 1 hour a day watching TV and looking at her laptop. Is this old limit outdated or unrealistic? I don’t know anyone whose kids would only spend an hour a day of ‘screen time’ and everyone is always looking at the computer while they watch TV these days. What’s a sensible limit for a 9 year old today?

  • Rev. Christopher Smith Says ...
    Rev. Christopher Smith

    There is no magical number of the maximum amount of time a day that a child should be connected to technology devices. It is true that the recommendation used to be 2 hours daily (at least during the week) but individual circumstances should influence what you are considering.

    The first aspect to consider is why the child is using the technology. A growing trend in education are laptop or tablet programs. In these programs every child is given a laptop or tablet to use in connection to their education. In some cases, school districts have eliminated traditional textbooks and gone to using electronic textbooks on these devices. In some cases, teachers may even assign playing games on the device as part of the homework. If this is the case, some 9 year olds may find that their entire 2 hour limit (daily or even just at home) is eliminated simply through use fro education.

    This brings up the more important ways to judge your child's use of technology - what are they not engaging in. One of the ideas behind the old two hour rule was that this would then leave time for other activities that are important for a child to engage in. What is it that you want to see your child doing as they develop in a healthy fashion? For many people this list will include things such as physical exercise, activities engaging the imagination, hobbies, face to face social interactions, learning work habits through chores and exploring the world around them. If your child is able to continue to engage in these types of activities and has time for their use of technology, then the amount of time they are spending on their technology use is not interfering with what you believe to be important tasks in their daily (or regular) life.

    A final aspect that is raised in this question is the aspect of engaging in multiple tasks at the same time (e.g. watching TV while being on a laptop). Some people will value this in the learning of how to multi-task. Others will argue that we are not really effective when we multi-task. You may want to watch how your child is spending time on multiple activities. Is your child really just having the TV on in order to create noise and distraction and if so how does this relate to their laptop use? Is your child merely using the laptop during the commercials (or shows) in order to get some things done during this "down time" in watching TV? If so, are they choosing activities that are appropriate to do in short periods of time? What this really does is opens up the opportunity to have a conversation with your child about what they are doing. This can be good in your relationship and help both of you really understand what is going on and if it is really a positive use of the time. In so doing, you might want to also look at what you do and what you are modeling. Often as adults we engage in many of these same patterns without really thinking about it.

    So, in summary, there is not a magic rule about how much technology use your child should be doing in a given day. IN assessing this, you need to look at the actual use, how the use is affecting other dimensions of the child's life and whether the way they are using technology is really productive. In assessing this for your child (and yourself), appropriate limits can be determined that will allow you and your child to experience wholeness and peace in relationship to the role of technology in their life.

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