How to Limit Screen Time Without Conflict

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March 15, 2021

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Table of Contents

14 Tips to Limit Screen Time Without Conflict an Expert Guest Blog SmartSocial.com

There are many reasons to spend more time on screens for learning and relaxation. But finding the balance and knowing when enough is enough is a challenge and conflict between parents and students. It’s important to help students build healthy screen time habits, but for many parents and educators, that’s easier said than done.

We asked 14 experts to share their best tips that parents can use to limit screen time. In this post, learn how you can: create a daily routine for your family, encourage your students to earn screen time, how to model positive behaviors, take a social media break, and more.

1. Give your kid input in the screen time limitations process

Headshot of Sarah Miller
Sarah Miller

Sarah Miller, Founder, Homeschooling 4 Him

A great way to help reduce conflict around screen time limitations is to give students some input and control in the process. Parents who are planning to reduce the family's screen time can start with a family meeting. Briefly explain the reasons for wanting to make a change. It also helps parents to take responsibility for the problem and to commit to reducing their own screen usage as well.

The next step is to decide as a family when screen time will occur. It is helpful to create some screen-free times in your family routine. You could also choose to create a short time window for screen time each day so your kids know when to expect it. It is important to give kids some age-appropriate input into when these times will be. Kids who have participated in the decision will be more likely to follow through with the plan.

Another helpful strategy is to give kids screen time coupons. Kids would get a certain number of coupons per day or per week that can be redeemed for a specific show or a certain number of minutes on the tablet, for example. They can redeem their coupons whenever they would like, but after the coupons are gone, the screens are off. This strategy gives kids even more control over their screen time. It also teaches them about priorities and delayed gratification, and it helps to reduce arguments when the coupons are gone.

No matter what strategy a family chooses, it is important to be consistent. Kids are more likely to ask for more screen time when they are used to having a lot of screen time. As they begin to turn off the screens and find other ways to spend their time, the resistance will decrease.

2. Challenge your student to take a one-week vacation/detox from social media

Headshot of Josh Ochs
Josh Ochs

Josh Ochs, Founder of SmartSocial
Teach students that social media can (and should) be utilized as a tool for good, but that it is important to take breaks from time to time. Challenge your student to consider deleting their Instagram and/or Snapchat from their phone for one week and take a social media detox/vacation. Before embarking on their "low tech vacation," students can announce to their friends that they are focusing on school and can be reached by text directly. Then, help your student delete their Snapchat, Instagram, and any other time-consuming apps from their phone for one week.

If your student doesn’t want to delete their apps, consider having them unfollow 100 people on Snapchat and/or Instagram. This will free them up to only follow people they are close with, and can even reduce social media anxiety.

3. Interact with your student during screen time use

Lisa Arlington, Founder, Gifts Nerd

  • Interact with your child during screen time use

Interacting with your child during the time they use a screen is pretty important to manage their screen time and to set a guideline. This interaction means being with them and talk to them about almost everything on the screen. This will allow all parents to get a complete idea of the child’s screen time and what they see on the screen. Interacting with the kids during this time also makes them look away from the screen and give a rest to their eyes and brain. You can also play some educational games with them.

  • Schedule other activities for them during the day

Another easy and creative way to limit and manage screen time is to make sure kids get involved in other fun and playful activities that are off-screen. I would suggest the parents engage in physical and recreational activities more so that the kids follow in the footsteps and become more physically active. This would limit their screen time, make them active at the same time, and improve their creativity as well. Other ways of doing this are family dinners where everyone is at the dining table and no digital devices are allowed, and not allowing the devices in the bed, and taking away any screens from the kids’ bedroom.

4. Screen time is a lifestyle change

Headshot of Michael Garbade
Michael Garbade

Michael Garbade, Founder, Education Ecosystem

Reducing screen time and setting guidelines for it doesn’t just merely revolve around screen time; it’s a complete lifestyle that needs to be adopted by both the student and family. One thing that needs to be understood is that this will not happen in days; it takes weeks to get aligned with a specific routine. The best strategy is to start by limiting the time and slowly reduce it to your planned time frame.

Secondly, plan your child’s day, don’t let them be bored, which will lead them to be irritated and eventually ask for more screen time. Get some art and craft activities sorted out or go for outdoor games; this keeps the child invested and drains off the energy in a better way. On other days do some cooking challenges together and let them decorate the cupcakes. The whole idea is to help them find fun in other activities to stay away from the television or gadgets. On weekends let them enjoy cheat days and let them stay up late while you watch a movie together.

5. Connect with your teen, eat together technology-free, and shut down phones before bed

Headshot of Cindy Muchnick
Cindy Muchnick

Cindy Muchnick, Author, Parent Compass

If screen time becomes so out of control that teens and tweens experience headaches, erratic sleep patterns, or cannot disengage from their tech, here are some suggestions:

1) Model good tech behavior as an adult. Put down your tech and connect with your teen.

2) In our book, The Parent Compass: Navigating Your Teen's Wellness and Academic Journey in Today's Competitive World, we resolutely recommend helping your teen shut down all devices for a full hour before they go to bed. Collecting cell phones, iPads, and laptops are a necessary nightly habit. Store them in a common area like a kitchen or house entry area. Studies do show that sleep patterns are negatively impacted by the use of tech too close to bedtime.

3) Eat family meals together - any meals - breakfast, lunch, or dinner - so you can have tech-free, face-to-face interactions. Choose at least one evening per week—or as many as you humanly can to sit down together for a meal.  Research says that five to seven meals a week together is optimal. It allows for loose, unstructured conversation and laughter. Play a question game at dinner or family ice breaker to take the focus away from the discussion surrounding school work and grades and instead lend to more creative thinking and authentic sharing.

6. Give your student choices and set the screen time

Headshot of Elizabeth Hicks
Elizabeth Hicks

Elizabeth Hicks, Co-Founder, Parenting Nerd

  • Don't enforce, explain kindly

Children understand your idea better when you explain the point and not enforce it. Plan beforehand how you want to limit the screen time, but be flexible and talk to your child. Reinforcing behavior with a little gift or happy act will encourage the child to listen to you more. Give your child a time with a few options and ask him/her to choose one. This way he/she will be satisfied too.

  • Sometimes deviating from the schedule is alright

Ensure your child follows a set routine every day but let them deviate on weekends or some other time. A good practice is to set 2-3 hours of screen time every day for children and no exposure to devices one hour before bedtime. This is for weekdays; let your child watch a movie on weekends and have some popcorn. Following this practice motivates the child to follow the routine and look forward to the weekend. This also encourages them to stick to the guidelines.

7. Establish technology-free zones and other boundaries

Headshot of Brandon Walsh
Brandon Walsh

Brandon Walsh, CEO, Dads Agree

One of the best ways to set screen time guidelines for their children, which also stick, is to establish technology-free zones. The reason why I consider it to be a great option is that there can’t be any conflicts.

For example, you can establish that during breakfast/lunch/dinner time, everyone has to put their phones aside. All mobile phones can be collected in a basket and put in a separate room. This way screen time will not only be reduced, but you’ll also get to spend quality time with your family without any distractions.

Another example can be of establishing the rule that after 8:00 PM, there will be no cellphones being used around the lounge area, and everyone needs to be there - until or unless you have some other commitments. This is another great way of being able to spend quality time with family and yet again also setting a conflict-free screen time limitation.

It is always best to present some kind of a justification behind whatever decision you make and impose on others, otherwise, it seems suffocating to the other party. The aim should be to convince your family to become part of the plan and understand the intention behind it, rather than to seem to intrude.

8. Being a role model is the only way restrictions work

Headshot of Ales Wilk
Ales Wilk

Ales Wilk, Animal Fate

  • Be a role model

You can set a thousand restrictions to limit your son’s screen time, but not even one will be effective unless you practice it yourself. Children develop habits by seeing what their parents do. Unless you limit your own screen time, your teens will question every restriction you put on them. A good way to practice is engaging with them in a physical activity like exercise or walk to make sure you show them how to minimize screen-time by being a perfect role model. Outdoor activities like sports or athletics are effective for minimizing screen time and improving their physical and mental health. Being a role model and maintaining an environment of minimum screen time around the house will be more effective than anything else.

  • Keep their bedroom screen-free

One of the main reasons behind too much screen time is kids having access to devices in their bedrooms. Having a television, tablet, or a phone with them will keep kids distracted and unmonitored during their bedtime. You will not be able to track how much time they are spending looking at screens playing games or just otherwise. However, restricting their screens to the living room and allowing them to use them according to your set time restrictions will be a possible practice and help you monitor them. You will be able to stay aware of the content they are watching and guide them too.

9. Develop offline family time activities

Headshot of Melanie Musson
Melanie Musson

Melanie Musson, USInsuranceAgents.com

Letting your children be involved in setting limits allows them to feel like they have some control over their restrictions.

If your child has been used to a lot of screen time, a sudden restriction will be onerous for all parties. Parents can’t just take something away without offering an alternative. Ask your child what new activity they’d like to participate in.

Maybe they’ll show interest in soccer, or possibly an art class, dance, or music. Their new activity will take the place of some of their excessive screen time, but it won’t feel like a punishment.

Spending time together as a family is another way to limit screen time but replace it with something else. Have your child cook dinner with you. They can plan the meal, read the recipe, and they’ll learn valuable life skills in addition to spending less time online.

Game nights with friends and family are a beautiful way to occupy your children away from screens. In-person games force children to improve interpersonal communication and work through winning and losing graciously.

Researching and implementing ways to be more sustainable as a family is another productive way to spend time without relying on screens. Your whole family can feel good about your unified accomplishments.

10. Establish boundaries, make a routine, and role model the habits you want them to form

Headshot of Robin Brown
Robin Brown

Robin Brown, CEO, Vivipins

Parenting can be quite a task, especially with screens around. After all, we have all been through endless fights with our children on limiting their screen time, only for their “five more minutes” to turn into hours, resulting in unwanted yelling and tantrums. However, knowing the risks of too much screen time, it is imperative that as parents, we ensure sound ways of reducing our children’s screen time without conflict.

If you’re a parent in need, here are some tips on establishing screen time boundaries without coming off as the “bad guy” in front of your children:

  • Set clear rules and boundaries

First of all, it’s important to know that children are not mature enough to be left unmonitored with their electronics, which is why it is imperative that as a parent, you establish clear rules and boundaries since day one. Tell them how unsafe too much screen time can be, so that they acknowledge the problems that can arise from it. Moreover, try marking screen time as a privilege, allowing your children extra screen time only on special occasions and achievements. Don’t forget to let them know that this privilege can be taken away just as quickly as it can be given.

  • Creating a fun routine

If your children have a set routine that isn’t monotonous, they are more likely to ditch the screens for some wholesome enjoyment. Help them balance their day out by including fun activities, such as physical sports, family time, and new hobbies.

  • Role model healthy habits

If you’re practicing what you’re preaching, your children are going to copy you into it. So, no matter how tempting it is to grab your phone to scroll through social media, try your best not to, especially around your children. Instead, exhibit healthy habits and hobbies, so that they pick them up instead of their phones and tablets.

  • Set a screen limitation timer

The majority of new technology comes with built-in screen timers and parental controls. Make the most out of those by setting a screen limitation timer. This way your child is less likely to blame you for ending their favorite game.

11. Build a daily routine for your family

Headshot of Elizabeth Malson
Elizabeth Malson

Elizabeth Malson, President of Amslee Institute
Parents have a lot to manage and it's easy for kids to get several hours of screen time a day. Depending on the age of the child, it may be challenging to switch from screens to other activities, but never underestimate the power of a bored child. Without a screen, children usually find something to do, especially if they have a bin of toys, a set of Legos, books, bikes, and other age-appropriate activities. It may take a few weeks for the child to realize they need to find something else to do with their time.

Reducing screen time can help children develop life skills, like how to self-regulate their use of media and have more time to advance academically. To develop personal responsibility, accountability, and the importance of helping family members, introduce children to household management chores and teach them cooking, how to fold laundry, and cleaning.

For younger children, have them work on puzzles, build Lego sets using an instruction book, read out loud, complete supplemental workbook pages in an education binder, spell words, make up a song, or turn on the music and dance. When dinner, dishes, and other chores are done, go on a neighborhood walk or bike ride each night. During this time, talk about space, the stars, the forest, and stop to look at bugs and collect rocks. Following these steps can help build learning into your daily routine.

12. Kids should earn time on the internet instead of it just being given to them

Headshot of Brittany Jean-Louis, LPC
Brittany Jean-Louis, LPC

Brittany Jean-Louis, LPC, A Freeman's Place Counseling
Part of earning screen time is through creating a behavior modification system in which kids are required to do something (finish chores, have a good behavior day at school, complete homework, etc.) to earn something (sleeping over a friend’s house, playing video games, getting on the internet, etc.).

The behavior modification can be a chart created by parents and kids together. The chart can include at least 3 target behaviors (complete wake-up routine, attend school with no behavioral issues, come home and complete a chore, etc.). When those target behaviors are met, the student can earn screen time. Creating the target behaviors, and even the amount of screen time that can be earned should be discussed as a family.

When students feel a part of this process it increases their self-esteem and cooperation with something they have collaborated on. Parents should also use strength-based language in discussing limits. For instance, instead of saying “too much screen time is bad” a parent can say something that resembles the following statement:

“We know how important it is for a kid your age to have access to the internet, but we want to ensure that you are well-rounded as a person. Therefore, we want to see you doing homework first and foremost, participating in extracurricular activities, and then having screen time."

13. Set hours and schedule social media blackout days to limit screen time

Headshot of Justin Lavelle
Justin Lavelle

Justin Lavelle, Chief Communications Officer for BeenVerified
Not setting limits on technology usage is a big mistake. Many parents believe if kids are participating in age-appropriate technology, everything is fine. Studies show that some kids may have a propensity to become tech addicts. Kids who partake in too much tech time tend to be anxious, have a hard time making and keeping friends, and can develop low self-esteem. It is essential to set hours and schedule blackout days to keep kids involved in real-life activities and relationships.

To help limit screen time, consider downloading an app that limits their online usage. It will disable their device when their time is up. You can also block websites you don’t want to be made available to your kids. Parents should own the passwords for each device and change them regularly, even daily if feasible. Only give your kids the password once chores and homework are complete. It’s also important that parents model the behavior they are expecting from their kids. If kids see their parents on their phones or iPads all the time, they will expect to do the same.

14. Instill healthy screen time habits by modeling positive behaviors

Headshot of Colleen Sims
Colleen Sims

Colleen Sims, Founder of Guidance With Love
Because of the nature of technology today and its integral role in a child's life, it's no longer sustainable to create arbitrary time limits for screen use. It's more important to instill healthy habits for screen time.

One way to do this is by having a list of activities a child must do before engaging in screen time (complete household chores, complete self-care tasks, do something active, do something creative, go outside, read something, do something social, etc). These are parts of life that need to be protected in the age of technology and they will naturally decrease the amount of time available for children to use screens.

It's also important to promote (and model) pro-social limits, such as no screens at the dinner table, everyone puts their phones away during family time, etc. Then, we want to create limits around screens to protect the brain, like no screens an hour before bed, no screens for the first hour after waking, a limit to how long screens are used without a break, etc.

Next, we want to monitor the content that is consumed on screens and set limits around that. Finally, it's important to model healthy screen habits through our own behavior as parents. How often do your children see you using screens? Does it match what you expect from them?

Conclusion

It can be difficult for parents to limit screen time, but if parents follow the advice from these experts, it can get easier.

For younger students, parents and educators can:

  • Find alternatives to screen time:
  • Puzzles
  • Building Lego sets
  • Reading out loud
  • Spelling words
  • Making up a song
  • Listening to music
  • Going for a walk
  • Create a daily routine for your family that has screen time scheduled for limited periods of time.
  • Model positive screen time behaviors for your children. If you don’t want your children to use their phones in certain circumstances, then it’s important that you don’t use your phone in those scenarios.
  • Have regular discussions with your student about digital safety. Remind them to never share personal information online and that they can always come to you if they experience anything uncomfortable.
  • Keep the family computer (and any devices your student has access to) in a central area of your home and use visual timers to track your student’s screen time.

For older students, parents and educators can:

  • Set a screen time schedule for your family that includes blackout days and times (e.g. no screens one hour before bed, no devices at the dinner table, etc.).
  • Encourage your student to find offline activities they would be proud to share on social media. This can generate excitement if it means your student will have new content to post online.
  • Monitor your student’s screen time activity and use the same apps as them. When students know that their parents are reviewing their digital footprint, they tend to keep their activity more positive.
  • Have regular discussions with your student about digital safety. Remind them that they can always come to you if they experience anything uncomfortable online.
  • Consider taking a social media vacation as a family.

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