How much time should your children spend online?

As part of a new partnership with Netsafe, Fostering Kids NZ is proud to present the first in a series for caregivers who want to learn more about keeping children and young people safe online.

This month, we ask the question: how much time should your children spend online? (spoiler alert – there is no magic number, but there are strategies you can use to get the right balance for you and your child.)

Watch Netsafe expert Sean Lyons discuss the issue here – or scroll down for a summary – and links to resources from Netsafe.

Sean says the first thing is to be actively aware of how much time children and young people are spending on the internet – and also to make sure you are aware of exactly where they are. He points out that it is not only when they are in front of a monitor at home that they may be accessing the online world. You can also be online using a mobile phone or a games console.

How much time is too much time?

There are no hard and fast rules about exactly how much time to allow your children to spend online – but as caregivers it is our responsibility to ensure that time spent online is supporting healthy development.

At Netsafe they believe that not every online hour is created equally. They ask parents and caregivers to think about not only the amount of hours being spent online, but also what children and young people are doing online. There are some activities you may be happy with a child doing online for 1, 2 or even 3 hours a day – but other activities you may want to shut down quickly.

For example, Sean says: “If you were told a young person was working in a group and they were developing a script towards making a documentary you’d think that sounds fantastic. The fact they might be doing it online – you probably should think it is just as fantastic. Whereas if you heard your child was watching a bunch of unstimulating cartoons, say for a three hour period, you’d probably be worried about it if it was in front of TV – you can probably feel the same way if someone was viewing that kind of content online.”

Setting boundaries

Once you understand what is happening in your child’s online world, you can use two techniques to set and maintain boundaries:

  1. parenting techniques – like making screentime a reward for completing chores, and not caving in to temper tantrums.
  2. technology – there are a number of ways to make the internet connection to your child’s device automatically switch on and off.

Learn more about how to do this here.

Signs of internet overuse

As caregivers, we’ve all seen how powerful the attraction of devices can be for children and young people. Here are some signs that you need to review the amount of time a child or young person is spending online:

  1. it is affecting their sleep
  2. it is affecting their schoolwork
  3. it seems related to changes in behaviour
  4. they get angry or aggressive when it is time to get offline
  5. online activities are taking over from other hobbies

Learn more here.

Netsafe is an independent, not for profit New Zealand organisation focused on online safety. They’re committed to helping everyone in New Zealand take advantage of digital opportunities by providing education and support to manage and resolve online safety challenges. Whether you’re dealing with online bullying, a request that looks suspicious, or you just want advice for using the internet safely, they can help.

Netsafe’s free helpline

Open from 8am-8pm Monday to Friday and 9am-5pm on weekends and public holidays. You can call them toll-free from anywhere in New Zealand on 0508 NETSAFE, or email  

The Netsafe website has information and advice about how to stay safe online.

Netsafe social media

Follow @NetsafeNZ on Facebook or Twitter to keep up to date with the latest in online safety news, advice, information and tips. You can also sign up to their e-newsletter on their website.


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