Advice on Limiting Screen Time

A parent asks: "I'm looking for successful strategies for limiting device time. How do you set clear, enforceable limits without too much resistance, arguing or stress?  I have a 10 year old who is predictably addicted to her new iphone. I'd be grateful for any advice."

Related Reading on Park Slope Parents:

Screentime and Anger Issues

Screen Time and Social Connection for Kids


Member Ideas:


Use screentime as a reward:

We're doing a version of this to limit screen time.
We started it this summer when we had some unscheduled days. It was much easier to implement on those days than on our busy fall weekdays.
For us, screen time can happen after the following have been completed: homework, practicing piano, some kind of physical activity, and a household chore. We also reserve the right to tell them to get off when we think they've been on their devices long enough (usually, when it gets to this point, they agree with us!).
Screen time pretty much means gaming-on-the-device time. Family TV time doesn't count, nor does texting or emailing friends for our 6th grader. She's not on social media yet and we like that she's connecting with her friends, especially the ones from 5th grade whom she misses.

It hasn't been perfect. There are things that fall by the wayside, but it has had some very positive effects--the most notable being big upticks in piano playing and household contributions. Oh, and less overall screen time! Worth it."


Remind kids that screentime is a privilege, treat, and/or reward:

"Let me come out of the closet here (I somehow feel that I could be banned from the food coop for admitting this) to say that I set very permissive limits for Nori:

1) If she sleeps through the night, she gets 2 TV episodes in the morning
2) TV is one of the options when Dad is watching her (usually YouTube science videos or Peppa Pig)
3) If she gets a nosebleed, she gets 10 minutes of iPad while I stanch the bleeding
4) While I clip her nails, she gets a TV episode
5) While riding in a car or on a plane, unlimited iPad and TV time - often unsupervised
6) [the doozy] "iPad Sundays" - an entire afternoon (usually ends up being something like 2 90 minute stretches) of iPad/TV - only about half supervised

(by "TV episode" I mean she watches an AVI file on my laptop)

Yes, she often acts addicted, and yes "one more episode" is one of the things she'll cry about, but we try to remind her that all these screen time interludes are a privilege contingent on her not complaining. And... what can I say... personally I consider media consumption to be awesome, and I just love that she's finally old enough that I can share this part of my life with her."


Think about the root cause of why screen time is a problem:

"We don't have strict limits either. [My son] has been mostly watching Thomas and a Korean cartoon called Robocar Poli (weird!) on YouTube. I think he averages 45 min/day. I've found that the times when he has trouble turning the iPad off are when he's overtired or sick. Actually, it's often my first indicator that something is off!"


Set boundaries of where and when screen time is allowed:

"I set up a 'no technology at the kitchen table' rule."


Have a schedule that doesn't even have room for screen time:

"I find it tricky to limit TV and IPAD so I put my kids in after school every single day. [My son] just turned 3 and he goes to full day pre-school and then does 2 hours of extended day until 5. My big kids go to 321 and after school at until 5. I pick them all up at 5 (they can stay until 6 if I need) and then we come home for dinner, homework, a little playing, reading books, and then bed. We literally don't have time for IPAD or TV and instead the kids are usually at the park, swimming, doing art projects, or something of the like. I finally had to accept that I wasn't capable of engaging the 3 of them in these activities on my own (plus, I kind of need more time to work!) so I just bucked up and paid for the after school. I really find that the diversity of activities has brought out so much creativity in my kids. And plus think of all that money I'm saving on yogurt land! Seriously, my kids would definitely be watching too much TV and eating too much frozen yogurt if it weren't forafter school. I highly recommend. As for weekends, we do our best to schedule weekend family activities that the kids love so they don't spend too much time with the TV or IPAD but on occasion we do have "movie night" with popcorn or let the kids alternate half hour each on the iPad. At least on week days it's not an issue."


Coincide screentime when it can help you; and set a timer!

"I let them have like 10 min of screen time, usually when I'm doing final dinner prep or something. I set the timer and tell them they can have the iPad as long as they close it when the timer goes off. This is one of the rare areas where we don't have fights."


"There are days when I get home from our lengthy commute with him and my husband is still working and there's a blind diabetic dog needing food and an insulin injection and an obnoxious cat screaming for food and packages to be brought inside and dinner to consider... and then I put an episode of Sesame Street or Thomas the Tank Engine on demand and hope that it will occupy him for a few minutes so I can accomplish something."


Save screentime for travel:

"For screen time rules, we generally use the iPad in the car or on planes, and otherwise just for maybe 10 minutes at a time here and there. For TV, we've just started letting [my child] watch a couple of PBS Kids shows that we DVR a few times a week. She no longer naps or even does quiet time (even at school - she is literally the only kid who doesn't nap!), so some days when she's with her babysitter or us (sometimes the adults need a break too), she watches one or two shows."


"We only do the iPad in the car or at a restaurant, since she's totally addicted and it always starts a fight to turn it off. At least with TV or a movie there are end points."


Setting limits (no matter how strict or relaxed) still takes time to enforce:

"She knows by now that we mean it and I find that is all it takes. We get to say when it's time to have the TV on or the ipad on or whatever. I like it random so that she doesn't think she deserves to have time with it or whatever. But I also don't want it to be so special that it's special. It's an ordinary part of my life and as she gets older I expect it will be a regular part of her life. Of course I want to be part of her media consumption and use it to talk about the world. I don't see why I shouldn't start that now. So I guess we are going to stick with no set times, doing it mostly at her request and putting limits dependent on the situation."


Don't say no, just defer:

"My method for saying no is just 'Not right now. Maybe later'. Sometimes that goes over fine. Sometimes there's whining, but I just hold firm and distract until he's moved on."


If all else fails, think maybe your kid is going to be the next big shot TV/ video game/ app/ movie producer:

"I went to high school with a guy who is now a ridiculously successful TV and movie producer, and I am often like: 'Well, watching way too much TV certainly worked out for him.' It makes me very confused, and I constantly second-guess whether I'm prioritizing the right things. And really, that cuts into my enjoyment of harshly judging other parents which is kind of the best part of parenting..."


"I refuse to feel guilty about it. We all seemed to watch endless TV growing up and we were fine."


Dock phones at night:

"We also require their phones and iPads to be docked in the living room overnight (we have a dedicated shelf in one of our bookcases we call the docking station). This might be the smartest thing we have done. Otherwise, they would stay up trying to use workarounds to the screen time limits. Instead, they either read or sleep."

"We also have our kids dock all electronics outside of their bedrooms at night. And not just outside the door (we discovered we could not trust that situation). They have to go put it in another room where we spend more of our time."


Use iPhone blackout periods:

"You can do blackout periods with iphones. Go to settings/screentime/downtime and it lets you designate a 'downtime' when the device won't work, though it also helpfully lets you 'always allow' certain apps. We use downtime when our daughter is in school so she's not texting during class (as many kids do, unfortunately) but allow phone calls, google maps, Spotify, etc. to still work during those hours. At home, we take her phone until she's done with her homework, and then limit it to about an hour a day."


Don't rely on self-regulation—it's hard!

"I just wanted to add to this conversation that expecting kids to learn to self regulate can be tricky because phones and these apps are built to addict. So its a child vs and AI. LOL but Im kinda serious. Think of it in terms of how you would handle an addiction. Don't assume kids (or even us for that matter) can just self regulate."


Consider relaxing limits on creative/constructive apps:

"We are big crossword and word game people, so those are always available and don't count toward screen time -- same with Woodoku (sort of zen game of fitting wood shapes into a square). Also free of limits: making art in ProCreate, composing on Garage Band, Sound Cloud, and Spotify."



Growing Up Digital: Media Research Symposium

"I thought I would pass on some interesting take-aways from the AAP Growing Up Digital: Media Research Symposium I ran across. The whole article is fascinating."

Ted Talk: Dimitri Christakis - Media and Children

"After our daughter's 15 mth visit with our pediatrician, during which we had an eye-opening conversation about how much TV/ipad use is too much for our toddler, I started doing some research on my own. I found this very interesting TED talk about how media affects our kids. Hope this is useful to some of you too."

The Touchscreen Generation

"I came across this super interesting article that explores less whether screen time is good or bad for toddlers, but more what even the youngest children learn from apps, TV, etc, and what doesn't quite work for them yet."

Social Media & Teens: No Simple Answers, from the Dana Foundation

Media and Digital Literacy: Resources for Parents, from Edutopia

The secrets to tech-free family mealtimes your kids will actually enjoy