Tech & Media

How To Set Screen Time Rules That Work

Dec 17, 2015

Most parents have rules for when—and for how long—their kids can use computers, tablets and smartphones.

It might be a little YouTube in the morning, 30 minutes of Minecraft before dinner or some social media after homework. But when school’s out and kids’ schedules change, it can be hard to maintain these kinds of screen time rules.

More downtime at home can mean that kids expect to spend more time on their devices.

Holidays can be a good time to refresh the screen time rules in your home—for both you and your kids. There are lots of benefits to including the whole family when revisiting rules, says Sara Dimerman, a psychologist and parenting expert.

Work With Your Kids To Determine The Rules

“It’s important to give children a voice when it comes to making the rules—ultimately, you make the final decision, but they can be part of the decision-making process,” Dimerman explains.

It’s important to give children a voice when it comes to making the rules.

“Allowing [kids] to help develop guidelines and stick to them helps them learn how to self-regulate. It lets them buy into the program,” says Dimerman.

For example: if kids get to use technology for two hours a day, maybe they get to decide how that time is divided. Or, kids can suggest a way for parents to indicate when time is up.

“Kids can also suggest consequences if they don’t follow the rules—perhaps they get less time the next day, or lose the privilege to use a phone or tablet altogether,” says Dimerman.

This way, consequences don’t feel like arbitrary punishments. In other words, the frequent complaint, “but that’s not fair!” is less likely when the kid helped make the rules in the first place.

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Try Device-Free Time

For weekends and holidays, Dimerman suggests no devices before lunch or near bedtime to prevent kids from getting up early or staying up late online—in fact, she suggests no devices in the bedroom.

Nicole Grady, a Central Ontario mother, has two children who aren’t old enough to have their own devices yet, but they borrow hers and she wants to set the tone early.

“We have a no-screens-at-the-table rule. That goes for me and my husband, too—we don’t check our phones at dinner. And when we have a family movie night or something like that, we also put everything away,” she says.

“We never take our phones to bed and…[we] expect the same from our kids.”

Grady’s family keeps the charging station in the kitchen. “We never take our phones to bed and…[we] expect the same from our kids,” she says.

Of course, phones, tablets and computers have benefits as educational or creative tools. It’s fine to use a device to keep kids occupied, but it’s also important to offer paper and pencils. Like everything, it’s a matter of finding the right balance between apps and board games, or between watching a movie together and staring at screens separately.

Follow Your Own Screen Time Rules

Tech addiction is a fast-growing problem—fueled by 24/7 social media and games and apps that are designed to keep people playing. Dimerman sees this as an issue that affects kids and parents. 

To set a good example, try adopting your family’s screen time rules for yourself (especially when the kids are around).

Try adopting your family’s screen time rules for yourself.

“Modelling proper use of technology is the number-one thing. As parents, we’re aware of how we ourselves can be addicted; many know how difficult it is to put down a phone, whether it’s responding to work emails or playing Candy Crush Saga,” Dimerman says.

“Give [your kids] face-to-face attention. If you’re in the park, put your phone away and show [them] they’re most important.”

Setting clear boundaries about technology use when kids are young can help as they grow up.

“As kids get older, they push these boundaries to a greater extent,” says Dimerman. “Once they hit high school, many are bringing smartphones to school and using them 99 percent of their waking hours. If you haven’t taught them how to set limits for themselves by this point, things can feel out of control.”

How do you manage screen time rules in your home?

Article Author Erik Missio
Erik Missio

Read more from Erik here.

Erik Missio used to live in Toronto, have longish hair and write about rock ‘n’ roll. He now lives in the suburbs, has no hair and works in communications. He and his wife are the proud parents of a nine-year-old girl and a five-year-old boy, both of whom are pretty great. He received his MA in journalism from the University of Western Ontario.

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