Screen time kids: Rules structure your child’s media consumption.

Media consumption: Screen time recommendations for children

Children should spend most of the day away from screens and pursue other fun activities: Playing with friends, hobbies and creative pastimes should take up the major part of your child’s everyday routine. As your child gets older, he or she will also want to focus more and more on digital media. To ensure a healthy balance of sensible media consumption and other leisure activities, we provide a few tips and suggest screen time guidelines.

Sensible rules for your child’s media consumption

Whether you need to control your child’s media use depends on how often your child uses the media that are accessible. Some children are intrinsically more inclined to be more physically active and prefer doing sports or pursue a creative hobby while others get much more involved in media activities. Every child has a different character and different interests. Therefore, you should always observe the media consumption of your child very carefully and evaluate how often your child uses media and for what purpose. Informative content or creative use of media (photography, online drawing/design etc.) have more educational value than pure entertainment series or websites.

If you feel that your child needs rules for using the media available, we recommend that you set up these screen time guidelines together with your child. This way you can create a comprehensible framework of why media rules are important to follow and allow a certain level of participation in the decision-making process. If you see any potential conflict in how the screen time rules are set up discuss this openly with your child. Also consider the point of view of your child and ask about his or her feelings and wishes. Decide together what consequences your child can expect if certain rules are not observed.

However, allow for a certain level of flexibility when setting up rules for media consumption. On a rainy day, your child could be allowed to watch TV a little longer or play a video game. In exchange, there could be a media break the following day. Generally, try to determine media-free days to allow plenty of time for other activities away from media.

It is easiest to implement your media rules by introducing a structured every-day routine. A fixed schedule and rituals give your child a reliable framework that allows good judgement of how long media is used every day. In this context, we suggest the following routines:

  • turn off screen media 1-2 hours before bedtime

  • no smartphones at the dining table or during homework

  • put smartphones elsewhere prior to going to bed

  • set up media-free days and times

  • plan a fixed media use schedule for your child


Avoid constant exposure to media. Pay attention to whether your child actively uses media or runs it merely as background noise. If that is the case, then it is better to turn it off.

Screen time guidelines for kids: Tips for age-appropriate media consumption

How long your child should be allowed to use media mainly depends on which media they use and for what purpose. If your child uses media sensibly and purposefully, then media consumption doesn’t need to be restricted too much. The odd exception may also apply for shared family activities which may be a reason to extend a fixed time. If the computer is used for homework and learning, then alternative rules also need to apply. In the following, we offer a few screen time guidelines based on recommendations from The American Academy of Pediatrics:

  • 18 months or younger: no screen time recommended

  • 18 months to 2 years: limited screen time with high-quality content, no solo use

  • 2 to 5 years: no more than 1 hour per day (with parental guidance)

  • 5 years or older: consistent limits on daily screen time: sleep, exercise, and other activities should not be affected negatively

Once children are ten years or older, they can be trusted more and more to schedule their own daily routine. This will help your child become more independent and learn how to manage time. To get an overview of how long your child consumes media on a daily basis, there are various options. You can be as creative as you like. For example, you can design a weekly media timetable and tick off times or use colourful stickers to indicate ‘used’ times. In addition, you can design media vouchers together for your child to redeem. Alternatively, you can keep an overview by using symbolic currencies such as marbles. For each half hour that your child has used media, a marble is handed out. When you have no more marbles left, the media budget is used up for the week.

Technical devices and apps can also help in giving an overview of your child’s media use. Many computers and smart phones offer special settings which limit the times used. A WLAN router also has settings to limit user access or to set time windows for users. Another simple and very effective device is a timer switch. This allows limiting the power supply reliably on all devices.

Media consumption guidelines: Using media together keeps families together.

With growing age, your child may want to own a device to use his or her own favourite media. Here, there are also a few recommendations you can follow, for example the 3-6-9-12 rule:

  • under 3 years of age: no screen media

  • under 6 years of age: no own gaming console

  • under 9 years of age: no own mobile phone or smartphone

  • under 12 years of age: no unsupervised computer use/social media use

Again, these age recommendations are only a guideline. Decide for yourself, depending on your individual situation and your child’s current media consumption how you would like to proceed.

How much media consumption actually is too much for your child depends on their character and interests. Carefully observe your child and try to offer screen-free activities every day. Signs of excessive media consumption in children include:

  • neglecting schoolwork

  • disinterest in other activities and neglecting hobbies

  • bad tempers and irritation

  • concentration difficulties

  • over-excitement

  • media use is a frequent point of contention in the family

In this case, you should take action and set up media rules to help your child learn to use media in a healthy manner.


If screen media such as computer, smartphone or TV are located in a children’s bedroom, your child will be tempted to use them more often. Keeping children’s bedrooms free of such devices may therefore reduce your child’s media consumption.

Healthy media consumption for parents

As a parent, you are the most important example for your child. You are the key caregiver and your child’s biggest role model to learn from. Therefore, it is important that you lead by example and show how to use digital media in a responsible fashion to positively affect your child’s media education. Often, we do not notice how often we use digital media and how casually we handle our devices. Take the time to observe your own media consumption properly and make yourself aware of when, where and how often you use digital media. Here are a few pointers for you to help you evaluate your situation:

  • How often do you use your mobile phone or smart phone and in what situation?

  • How often do you have the TV or radio running at home?

  • How well do you know your way around digital media?

  • Are you the type who appreciates new media trends?

  • Do you post pictures of yourself and/or your child online? How do you handle this? Do you observe data protection guidelines?

  • What information do you publish online and who can see your posts?

Media rules for the whole family: Watch your own media consumption.

Depending on your answers, you can reflect on your own behaviour and possibly decide to change certain aspects. Extensive knowledge of media processes allows you to competently answer your child’s questions and offer best guidance. If you notice that you spend too much time using your smartphone, then you could introduce a phone-free day or track your screen time by using an app.


Assure your child that he or she can always ask you for help in case of problems or questions about media and internet issues. Thus, you become the main contact person and together you will become well-versed in the topic of internet safety.

For every family member to be aware of how much time he or she spends using digital media, you can set up a simple rule: Everybody is allowed to make another family member aware of the fact when he or she is in the process of staring at a screen for too long or if the situation is inappropriate for media use (for example when someone is talking, during meals etc.). Read more about proper etiquette for using smartphones in public in this article. If you observe the behaviour of your family members, you will pay more attention and have more awareness of how you use media and what for.


Successful media education requires a lot of careful thought in a constantly changing media environment. Lead by example and show your child how to use digital media purposefully and encourage him or her to spend lots of time away from the media. Screen time recommendations may help you in evaluating how long your child should use media, but at the same time, you should also keep an eye on the actual situation and behaviour of your child when deciding on rules. In our guideline PDF you can review all the important information about the topics of media education and media literacy.

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Sources and further reading

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Image sources Ammentorp Lund