How to have the screen time talk

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Whether you’re giving your kids screened devices for the first time, or you’re realizing it’s time to scale back their current screen time, here are four steps to help you bring up the topic without (we hope) any tears. 

1. Explain why you’re limiting screen time.

If your kids have had ample or unrestricted screen time so far, an abrupt limit may make them feel as if they’ve done something wrong.

Start the conversation by letting your kids know that this isn’t a punishment, but that you’ve been learning more about how screen time can affect their health—just like exercise and food. 

If your kids are little, try framing this in terms they might understand—like equating screen time to candy. Some of it’s fine and fun, but if you ingest too much, it can leave you feeling icky and sluggish. It’s important to balance out our screen time with other activities, just like how we eat our veggies before dessert. 

Boy gaming on a laptop

2. Ask your kids how too much screen time makes them feel.

When having this talk with older kids and teens, you can start by asking them how they feel about their screen time habits. It might surprise you to know that 72% of U.S. teens tend to feel more peaceful when they aren’t scrolling on their smartphone—but the same devices also make it easier for 69% of teens to socialize and explore their interests. 

This is why it’s important to make your kids an active part of the conversation and establish a baseline, together, for an appropriate amount of screen time. 


3. Make your expectations and guidelines clear.

That said, you’re still the parent—and you get to establish the rules around screen time. By being clear around the limits you set, you can give your kids the information they need to make smart screen time decisions.

Let them know:

  • How many hours per day or week they can spend on screened devices.
  • What counts toward their screen time limit, and what doesn’t (such as schoolwork, or video calls with family).
  • How you’ll be monitoring their screen time—is it based on what you see around the house, or will you be using a parental control app?
  • Whether there will be consequences for going over screen time limits, and what those may look like.
  • When and how your kids can request or earn more screen time—as a reward for good grades, for instance.

If you plan to use a parental control app to track or limit their screen time, it might be helpful to show them how you set it up—and what it monitors. This can help ease kids’ concerns that you’re “spying” on them, and instead make them more of an active participant in the screen time solution. 

4. Come up with a plan for screen-free fun.

Finally, telling your kids that grandma kicked you out into the yard from 9 am to 9 pm every day during the summers—and you survived—is probably just going to elicit some eye rolls, not inspiration. 

Remember that your kids have been around screens for most, if not all, of their lives. While screen-free activities were the norm for us as kids, this might not be the case for your family.

If your kids are feeling stumped about how to fill their time without any screened devices, brainstorming some ideas together can help get their creative juices flowing.

You might want to set screen time limits at one hour per child, per day—but your teen might enjoy decompressing with friends on a video game each weekend. By agreeing on a balanced compromise, everyone can feel better about their screen time limits.

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