August 3, 2014

Limiting Screen Time: how to break the addiction

Xbox.  Playstation.  Wii.  Kindle.  Nook.  iPad.  Galaxy.  Laptops.  Desktops.  Smart phones.  

Games.  Apps.  YouTube.  Twitter.  Facebook.  Snap Chat.  Tumblr.

Angry Birds.  Skylanders.  World of Warcraft.  Candy Crush.  Minecraft.

If you have a teenager, or even a pre-teen, you've no doubt heard of most of these.  Since the invention of the telephone and television, parents have struggled with keeping their kids from becoming addicted to electronics.  There's just something about a screen that keeps kids from focusing on anything else.

My approach to this difficult task differs from most, I think.  If you spend any time in parenting groups on social media, you've probably seen the popular questions:  "How do I keep my kids from spending too much time on their screens?  What do you do in your family?  They're addicted!"

Typical responses include these:  "We set a timer for 30 minutes, and when it goes off, the screens do, too."  "We have our kids do chores to earn screen time."

In my opinion, though, these tactics of negotiation should be avoided.  We're the parents.  Negotiation isn't our job.  It's our job to train our children up in the way they should go, which means we make the rules, and the kids follow the rules.  Save the negotiations for your car salesman.

We don't use timers.  We don't have the kids earn screen time.  We don't say, "If you do X, then you can use your screens."

Here is what we do:

Our kids must ask before they use any electronics.  Then, when we feel they've spent enough time on their screens, we tell them to turn the screens off.  They comply, or they receive consequences for disobeying (which usually involves having their electronics taken away for a period of time).

That's it.  There's no magic number of minutes or hours a child should or should not spend using electronics.  There's no magic formula for deciding when and how much screens can be used.  

Whenever I see a parent on social media complaining about their kids being addicted to screens and pleading with others for ideas on how to limit screen time, I always want to yell, "Just tell them to turn the screens off!"  But, I don't.  I'm afraid that would offend some parents.

Seriously, though.  Don't negotiate with your kids.  If you don't allow them to become addicted to screens, then they won't become addicted to screens. Set clear boundaries, and when they cross the boundaries, initiate consequences. They won't hate you.  Much.


  1. Very nicely stated. Enjoyed your article. Thank you!

    1. Thanks for reading. I'm glad you enjoyed it! :-)

    2. It is sad that kids control so many parents. I am happy that some parents are still the parents. This was very well written. Thank you.

    3. You are quite welcome.

  2. I agree. Just tell them to turn it off when you, the parent, feel they have spent enough screentime. Children who are allowed to habitually negotiate w/ their parents will also think they can negotiate with any other authority : teachers, police/ the law, employers, even God. --Michele

    1. Yes! Kids need definite boundaries. Thanks for reading!