Navigating Screen Time


Today’s parents are up against a whole new animal.

With the rapidly increasing availability of phones, tablets, and computers, the simple matter of tracking hours in front of a television is morphing into a much more complicated issue for parents today. Educational or not, screen-based programs, games, and social media are flashy, bright, and highly engaging. With too much screen time, we rightfully fear that children’s malleable young minds will not be able to sustain attention on anything that isn’t equally stimulating.  Experts concur with wise moms and dads: it’s critical to limit the amount of time children spend interacting with screens.

The challenge today’s parents face doesn’t lie in acknowledging and understanding the research. Instead, the challenge lies in navigating the muddy waters of what, when, and how screen time should be allowed. The uncomfortable tension between wanting our children to stay technologically current and the potential damage screen time might cause is one of the greatest dilemmas parents face.  The benefits of technology’s simple functionality, the social opportunities it can afford our children, and the breaks it provides to both parents and children are all wonderful, but only if we can simultaneously moderate its drawbacks.

So… you’re a parent. What do you do? Here are some simple, practical ideas to help you approach, navigate, and negotiate your child’s screen time:

  1. Be the model.  We are our children’s most powerful teachers, and most of our teaching is by example.  The addictive nature of social media, email, and distracting games threatens to trap us as well as our children.  Furthermore, it can distract us from the attention our children need and deserve.  If we don’t start with putting our own limits in place and being honest with our kids about the limits we’ve set for ourselves, how can we ask them to do the same?
  2. Embrace boredom.  You’ve likely heard that our kids need time to be bored.  As you set limits on screens, make sure that they know where you stand on the boredom issue.  When this elicits inevitable howls of “I’m bored!” be ready with an immediately reply: “That’s okay. You need time to be creative!  Can I help you with some ideas of what to do next?”?”

  3. Lose the guilt. Before you sit down to talk about limits, be ready to stand your ground. Your children will always want to be on screens, and who can blame them? A highly-addictive, screen-based device trumps almost any other form of play, but as the parent, you can be confident about your decision to set limits. You know best.

  4. Set limits together.  The best way to teach responsibility to children is by involving them in the process. Have a heart-to-heart with your child, explaining the benefits and dangers of using screens. Asking for their input in family decisions gives children a sense of ownership.  When they take part in creating their own boundaries, they’re much less likely to resist them.

  5. Ditch the screens in cars and restaurants.  As part of your discussion, pick a few places where screens simply aren’t allowed.  We recommend two that might seem unlikely: on car trips and in restaurants. Why? These places represent the epitome of boredom, allowing you to be bored with your kids and find solutions together.  These are chances to teach your children how to turn boredom into stimulating conversation, engaging games, or opportunities to get to know each other better!

  6. Use work-arounds.  Sometimes we need technology to manage technology, and innovators are responding. Devices like Circle and applications like ScreentimeOur Pact, and Family Time allow your family to set boundaries for screen time as a team.  Within those parameters, children are given the freedom to manage their own screen time. Rather than a parent acting as the “bad guy” by telling the kids to turn off a device, these applications help each family member follow through on the boundaries agreed upon together. It’s a nag-free win-win!


As with anything else decided as a family, these solutions are not likely to “fix” your screen time challenges immediately.  However, the ideas can be part of an ongoing conversation so your family can continue to make adjustments, navigating this new technological era together.