Setting Screen Time with your Kids and Teens

Written by: Maddie McGarrah, M.Ed.
Setting Screen Time with your Kids and Teens

Screens are now an essential part of our daily lives whether you are an adult or child. Children and teens now must use either computers or tablets while at school to get work done, do learning activities, and turn assignments in. It can be hard to figure out how much time to give your children and what limits to impose, and the hard answer is that it’s going to be a little different for every family. One quote that I have found to be helpful is by Dr. David Anderson, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, “If the worry is that your child is having too much screen time, it’s not about how much time that actually is, it’s about what it infringes on.”

Here are some helpful tips and questions to think about when deciding on screen limits with your child:

  • Some questions to ask yourself and your child when deciding how much screen time to set are:
    • Are they sleeping enough and eating a somewhat balanced diet?
    • Are they getting some form of exercise every day?
    • Are they spending quality time with family or friends most days?
    • Are they still invested in school and able to keep up with their homework and studies?
    • Do they spend time on hobbies and extracurriculars that matter to them?

Dr. Anderson advises that if you can answer yes to most of these questions, their screen time is likely not an issue at this time.

  • Discuss with your partner both the non-negotiables and the things you can compromise with your child on.
    • This will be especially important if you are trying to set limits with your teenage child.
    • Both caregivers need to be in agreement on some non-negotiable limits to set with your child and what you are willing to negotiate with your child on so that they feel heard and like they are a part of this process.
  • Have a collaborative conversation with your child, depending on their age.
    • The older your child gets, the more collaboration there should be regarding their screen time and the autonomy they have over it.
    • Let your child know what the non-negotiables are, then open the discussion to hear out what they would like in terms of their screen time so you can come to an agreement together.
    • Make sure to be compassionate and validating to your child. That time with screens can be animportant source of comfort, entertainment, or a way to connect with friends.
    • I would recommend writing down the plan you create so that your child knows exactly what is expected of them and what the consequences are if they choose not to follow the plan. This way you can model that you will stick to what you agreed to as well.
    • Add to the plan times when it can be re-evaluated, i.e., when summer starts or during vacation weeks.
  • Implement the plan and stay the course.
    • Don’t debate – at first your child may push back on the limits, but by staying consistent and firm
    • with the plan you set together, they will get on board.
    • Keeping to the schedule and plan will help cut down on requests for additional time if they know what to expect, especially if the plan includes opportunities for them to earn more screen time.
    • Model healthy use yourself – make a point to put aside your own screens during set times.

Lastly, have compassion and patience for yourself and your kids. Both you and your child won’t be perfect at following this plan. If there are times where either of you aren’t living up to what you agreed to, this can be a great time to regroup and discuss what went wrong and what everyone can do differently the next time.