Teaching Kids to Manage Their Own Screen Time

Teaching Kids to Manage Their Own Screen Time

Change the conversation by giving kids the tools to know when and why to unplug

Self-control is something that kids develop over time, from a very young age and into their 20s. As parents, we help guide kids into making healthier choices when it comes to their diet, exercise, study habits, and more. And the same holds true for establishing healthy screen time habits. From choosing enriching content online to knowing when not to binge has everything to do with teaching kids how to weigh pros and cons in their decision-making, a.k.a. the art of self-control.

Tired of constantly telling kids to turn off devices?

Take a break from monitoring their screen time and instead mentor them into making responsible choices with their devices, and not just because you say so.

Flip the script about screen time.

Physician and filmmaker Dr. Delaney Ruston, producer of the award-winning film series Screenagers, discovered that kids like to talk about their screen time experience—except with their parents. It’s a contentious topic for many families but simply talking to your kids about screen time in a positive way could open up the door to more respectful and relevant conversations. Screen time conversations that use words like “self-regulate” and “appropriate”can help kids become more mindful that they have the power to make decisions about their own screen time.

Get on the same page about devices.

Just like there's proper etiquette at meal times, there's etiquette around how to use your phone. Help kids understand that there is a time and a place for devices by setting a few house rules. For example, make it a rule that mealtimes and bedtimes are off limits but that there are times when you can be flexible about screens, like during summer vacation, while traveling, or on sick days. With healthy habits already in place, kids will find it easier to self-impose limits that feel right for them down the road.

Back it up with research.

Share well-vetted articles about the impact of screen time on tweens and teens. Turn movie night into documentary night with age-appropriate content related to screen time and how it can affect their brains, sleep and mood. Our picks: Screenagers (for ages 10+), The Social Dilemma ( 13+), and The Great Hack (15+). Share what you’re reading and watching and have a conversation about it so kids can become more aware of how online media might be affecting them. That awareness will ultimately help them know when it’s time to unplug for the benefit of their overall wellness

Become familiar with their online world.

For this generation, their online world is a social space and a way to connect and access information. And that’s OK. Get to know the platforms that they’re using, like TikTok and popular video games, so you can engage with them and their experiences and build trust around screen time. You can use this time as a way to share your family values and help them understand that they can step away when they encounter online content or experiences that make them feel scared or uncomfortable, and that they can come to you as a sounding board.

Be a good digital role model.

Be mindful of your own use and what habits kids might be picking up: Are you reaching for the phone out of boredom? Are you answering texts at dinner time? Are you scrolling past bedtime? If they see how you’re able to self-restrain from screen time they’ll learn to do the same, even if it takes them a while to execute.

Encourage their offline interests.

Give them plenty of opportunities to experience what it feels like to do what they love, offline. Get them outdoors in nature, playing sports, creating art, cooking, whatever fills their bucket. But avoid associating these experiences as a consequence of too much screen time to keep that negative association at bay. Over time, they’ll learn what offline and online experiences make them feel best and which are worth their time.