By the time kids reach grade school, most are very familiar with things like TVs, tablets, and smartphones. Chances are they'll want to spend a lot of time using those devices, too.

But kids' bodies and minds are still growing at this age. It's important for them to get plenty of exercise and lots of unstructured, screen-free playtime alone or with friends.

For kids this age, screen time — time spent looking at or interacting with any device with a screen — can include things like doing homework or researching a school project. But it also can include less productive things, like watching inappropriate TV shows or playing violent video games.

Parents need to set limits and know what their kids are watching or playing, and how they're interacting in the Internet.

How Much Is Too Much?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that parents of kids and teens 5 to 18 years old place consistent limits on the use of any media. This includes entertainment media (like watching TV and movies), as well as educational media (like researching a school report on the Internet).

Not all screen time is created equal. It's up to parents to decide how (and how often) their kids use screens and whether screen time is positive or negative. For instance, time spent on homework or other educational activities might not need to be as restricted as time spent playing video games.

For kids of all ages, screen time should not replace time needed for sleeping, eating, playing, studying, and interacting with family and friends.

Screen Time Tips

The same parenting rules apply to screen time as to anything else — set a good example, establish limits, and talk with your child about it.

To make your child's screen time more productive:

  • Research video and computer games before getting them for your child. Look at the ratings, which can run from EC (meaning "early childhood") to AO (meaning "adults only"). Kids in grade school should probably be limited to games rated EC, E (meaning "everyone"), or E 10+ (meaning "everyone 10 and older").
  • Preview games and even play them with your child to see what they're like before you let your child play alone. The game's rating may not match what you feel is appropriate for your child.
  • Make sure kids have a variety of free-time activities, like spending time with friends and playing sports, which can help them develop a healthy body and mind.
  • Turn off all screens during family meals and at bedtime. Also, keep devices with screens out of your child's bedroom after bedtime, don't allow a TV in your child's bedroom, and turn off entertainment media when kids are doing homework.
  • Spend time together with your child watching TV, playing games, or going online. Use screen time as a chance to interact and communicate with your child.
  • Preview TV programs to make sure they're appropriate before your kids watch them.
  • Use screening tools on the TV, computers, and tablets to block your child's access to inappropriate material.
  • Teach your child about Internet safety and proper social media use.
  • Keep the computer in a common area where you can watch what's going on.
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