How to Manage Screen Time for Your Anxious Child

screen time

Whether it’s gaming, watching TV or checking email and texts, screen time has become one of the great American past times. And we don’t necessarily mean “great” in the sense of being fabulous. When screen time replaces more beneficial activities or starts to overtake your anxious child’s life, it can be anything but fabulous.

But that doesn’t mean you have to hide all electronic devices or eliminate screen time altogether. You can instead learn to effectively manage your anxious child’s screen time by capitalizing on its benefits on avoiding its detriments. Asking yourself these five questions when your anxious child is in front of a screen can help you do just that.

What’s on the screen?

Screens can be a means by which children learn – provided, of course, the content that children are viewing or interacting with is educational. Learning through screens appears to start after the age of 2, as younger tots may not even know or understand what they’re seeing.

That can be a real blessing when it comes to TV shows or video games packed with violence, which are not recommended for children of any age. In past blogs we’ve explored what exposure to violence does, with one blog looking at What TV Violence Does to Your Anxious Child’s Brain and another researching How Gaming Affects Your Anxious Child’s Brain. The end results of either are not pretty.

Is screen time replacing a more valuable activity?

Screens themselves don’t necessarily make children less intelligent than their peers. No research exists to show that the act of playing with a smartphone or watching television can make children dumber or otherwise erode existing knowledge and skills.

What can be detrimental, however, is what screen time may be replacing. If your anxious child is opting to watch TV instead of doing his homework, playing outside or attending soccer practice, screen time could be stealing him away from opportunities for learning and growth. But if you hand your anxious child your tablet during a long car ride in the hopes it’ll occupy him enough to stop kicking the seat, screen time can be a useful tool.

Is the screen a distraction?

Sitting down to watch a show on TV is one thing. Leaving the TV droning on in the background, or turning it on when your child is playing with other children or toys is another. Screens left on in the background can distract anxious children, reducing the quality of their play and communication. Unless your anxious child is specifically sitting down to watch a particular show, you may want to flip off the television set.

Are you using screen time as a teacher?

Although educational TV shows do have their benefits, children typically learn things better when they’re interacting with teachers, parents or peers. If you do want to use screen time as a teaching tool, perhaps join your anxious child in front of the screen so you’re adding a layer of interaction to the experience.

How much screen time is my anxious child getting? 

Your final question concerns screen time quantity. New guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than one hour per day for children aged 2 to 5, and consistent limits placed on screen time for children ages 6 and up. Media-free time together is also recommended to help ensure screen time doesn’t go from a past time to the only way of life.


Photo Credit: Simon Kadula Flickr via Compfight cc