Setting Computer Limits Tips

Does your kid like the computer a little too much? Learn how to set limits and spot the signs of addiction.
Caroline Knorr Parenting Editor | Mom of one Categories: Screen Time
Parenting Editor | Mom of one

Is your child addicted?

  • 77% of 8- to 15-year-olds said they’d rather give up TV than give up the Internet (Pangea Media and YPulse, 2009).

  • Most parents in the United States estimate that their children spend about two hours a month on the Internet, but in reality, kids and teens are spending upwards of 20 hours a month surfing the Web (Center for Media Research, 2009).

  • About 41 percent of U.S. teens claim their parents have no idea what they are looking at online (Center for Media Research, 2009).

  • 76% of parents think the Internet helps their kids learn about other cultures and ideas (Common Sense Media and the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, 2008).

How much is too much time online?


If your children spend a large amount of time at the computer, you may wonder, are they addicted or do they simply enjoy being online? Perhaps it’s easier to frame it like this: Can your child enjoy himself – and all those things that aren’t online – when he’s away from the computer? If you’re not sure, start observing his computer habits and moods.


What is computer addiction?


All kids have trouble turning off the computer. Instant Messaging with friends seems so important, and games like World of Warcraft capture players’ attention and time -- a lot of it. Virtual worlds like Club Penguin or Teen Second Life can be equally engrossing.

But some kids go beyond procrastinating – they just can’t turn off the computer. Pay attention to how your child acts when the computer is taken away. If he becomes withdrawn, moody, and uncommunicative – and the mood goes away when he’s back online – it might be time to enforce some time limits.


Why it matters


The “off switches” in kids’ brains aren’t fully developed until kids reach their early 20s.That means they need rules and structure to help them turn off the computer. Developing children need to be able to have real lives independent of their cyber ones to develop socially, emotionally, and even physically. While some kids may blossom in the freedom and anonymity of online lives, they also need the interpersonal skills that online life can’t provide.

Computer dependency can also mask problems kids are having in the real world. Dr. Maressa Hecht Orzack, director of the Computer Addiction Study Center at Boston’s McLean Hospital, says she sees concerned parents – and their kids, mostly boys ages 11 to 19 – who think their kids are addicted to computers. She finds that many of these kids aren’t developing the coping mechanisms they will need to live life happily and successfully.


Tips for parents of all kids


  • Establish good habits early. Kids need guidelines and rules about what is a good amount of time to spend on the computer. A good rule of thumb for elementary kids is no more than an hour a day during the week. Allotting computer time in 15- or 30-minute increments gives you a chance to check in and suggest that it’s time for a break.
  • Stress homework before computer work. Make sure your kids know that homework must be finished before they look at YouTube videos or instant message the latest gossip.
  • Limit multitasking. Media multitasking is when kids are chatting online, watching TV, playing a game, checking out Facebook, or listening to music – and trying to do homework at the same time. It’s not really known what affect this has on how kids learn, but experts do know that it takes longer to do tasks like homework when other activities are going on at the same time. And that increases daily screen time.
  • Determine if your child has an addiction or if he or she is simply spending too much time online. What happens when your children are away from the computer? Are they argumentative, depressed? Is there a marked change when they are online?
  • If you suspect a dependency, have a heart-to-heart. Have a real discussion with your kids about your concerns. This, plus some serious guidelines, may normalize the behavior. If the problem continues, or you think the computer time is masking depression or anxiety, see your child’s doctor for advice. Also, check in with the school counselor and see if there is something going on at school.
  • Don’t take away the computer. This may seem like the best solution, but it can be very damaging to addicted players, who may feel that playing online games is the only thing that brings them any enjoyment. Removing the computer can make them depressed, and possibly even violent. It can also affect the level of your child’s trust in you.
  • Don’t hesitate to get professional help. Addictions are hard to break, and dependencies can often be a child’s only coping skill. You may need someone else to help you solve this problem.


About Caroline Knorr

As Common Sense Media's parenting editor, Caroline helps parents make sense of what’s going on in their kids' media lives. From games to cell phones to movies and more, if you're wondering "what’s the right age for…?"... Read more
How much computer time is too much for kids?

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Comments (8)

Parent written by Tiff4858

I believe it is very important to limit your child’s computer time. It is also important to maintain the right balance for the right age. Small children shouldn’t be sitting in front of a screen all day. Their minds are still growing and learning. According to Braiker, “Nine out of ten parents with children under 2 years old report that their kids use some form of electronic media”. In my eye that’s really young but there are so many learning games and apps for kids now a day, I do understand it. There just has to be boundaries set. My son is five years old, he has an amazing imagination. I love watching all the places he can go in our own backyard. I would hate to miss that with him sitting on the computer all evening. Don’t get me wrong my son does play on the computer and uses some racing apps. I feel he has to be familiar with computers and technology or he’ll fall behind in school. I think each parent knows their child individually and knows what limits need to be set. The hardest part is sticking to it. It is so much easier when your child says, “I’m bored” to tell them to go play games. With lives being so busy sometimes you have to take the time to go throw a ball in the yard. Once you start it more kids will join in and before you know it your child will be running outside to play without you having to throw the first pitch. Braiker, Brian. Technology in the Classroom: the good and bad
Adult written by Peter_W

"I believe limiting computer use is not necessary. Just tell your child the dangers of using the computer to much" - may be it depends on parents, may be I'm not that good, but when I was talking about this with my boy, it didn't work..Well, actually it was helping for may be 1 week, but after that the problem was coming back. We decided to use parental control software (we use this software We use Care4teen a bit different way, we just block internet access after 6 p.m., so he can do his homework or read, or whatever, but now he is not always online. For our family this was a good solution!
Parent written by gangamani

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Teen, 14 years old written by john12345

I believe limiting computer use is not necessary. Just tell your child the dangers of using the computer to much, such as that their eyesight may deteriorate. But to the people who think kids are getting stupider from using the computer, you are sort of wrong. It depends on the game. Call of duty, yes probably. Minecraft or scribblenauts, no no no no! Scribblenauts increased my vocabulary and taught me to type very fast! As for minecraft, it got me interested in electric circuits and science. So just take some time and talk to your child, and ask them what they are doing or playing. It may be good for them!
Teen, 13 years old written by HelpfulLittleKitty

I agree that limits are good, especially for younger kids that are still developing their eyesight. But sometimes it's okay to go past the limit. For example, if you're going on a long roadtrip, technology is something to keep kids busy. I also like using technology right before bed-- I get my iPad and read before bed, to help my mind relax. So, instead of one hour a day during the week, I would say one hour during the day and half an hour before bed, as long as they aren't spending the half an hour gaming.
Parent written by CSM Screen name...

On my opinion it’s right ideas about limits for children in using Internet. But if to be honest we are not able to close Internet access for them totally and can’t control every step. In this case possible to use special services, for example UsualHero (dot) com. This company works in branch of teenager’s security and development in social networks like Facebook. In the result, child spends time online but makes it with benefit for himself. So if we can’t forbid to use Facebook we can ask professional like UsualHero to help us!
Teen, 14 years old written by Connor Casey

Whats wrong with spending alot of time with technology. If i didnt have the internet of xbox i would spend many days home alone and lonley by myself