Are Screen Time Limits Helpful Or Harmful? Here’s What You Need To Know.

Galit Breen Elementary School

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Dear Galit,

I’m wondering about time limits on electronics and phones? If we say nothing during the week, then they want to binge on weekends! What to do?


Timer Controller, Wondering If I Should Be Looking For A New Job

Dear Wondering,

I love this question so much and I think it’s a perfect one for us to start this series with! Why? Because you are so not alone here!

The reason so many parents start off implementing screen time limits is because it’s what we remember from our youth.

We all have faint memories of timers for video games and turning off the TV once Family Ties, Growing Pains, or Who’s the Boss ended.

So we start here because it’s what we know, but most of us end up hitting a wall where doing this becomes more stressful than helpful. Here’s why.

Our kids are using technology in very different ways than we did.

Us: Ms. Pac Man, sitcoms, maybe a round or two of Atari.

Them: Homework, coding, making videos, connecting with friends, reading.

Do you see the disconnect?

When we impose screen time limits on our kids in the way that we had them, we end up chasing this scenario. It becomes never-ending as our kids are exposed to cooler and better uses of their online time and we try out new rules—like no technology during the week.

This one becomes hard to implement as a solid one-and-done, we discussed it and it’s off of our to-do list now because of everything we just talked about—does typing your homework count as screen time? How about research? Do we really want to say, “no” to coding?

We end up writing and re-writing these rules, making screens and everything that comes with them feel tricky and hard on us.

But having screen time limits also does something else: It makes screen time use a “shiny object”; something so desired and so coveted and so ALLCAPSAWESOME, that it’s withheld.

This does, indeed, make our kids binge when they are allowed to use screens!

It also creates unhealthy images of and habits around screens.

Based on your question, I think that you may already know this!

And you might be wondering why I know it so well, too. The truth is that I’ve been here as well!

And after a whole lot of muddling, trial and error, and research, here’s what I’ve found to work better.

1. Create a list of activity choices. Examples: Something…

  • Smart
  • Helpful
  • Kind
  • Active
  • Outside
  • Creative
  • Relaxing

You and your kids both get to add ideas to this list.

2. Include technology within the choices.

This takes technology firmly out of the “reward” category and places it much more usefully in the “this is a part of our lives so lets learn how to use it well” category instead.

3. Teach kids to identify the effects of screens on their bodies. Some examples are:

  • Tight shoulders
  • Back ache
  • Neck ache
  • Eyes hurting
  • Needing to squint/blink more
  • Getting crabby

4. Teach kids to self monitor when they are feeling these effects and to choose to do something different when they do.

You will have to monitor this a bit in the beginning. But the idea is to parent yourself out of this job!

A system like this will take screen binging out of the equation, teach your kids how to have balanced screen time habits, and get you out of the Timer Controller job! Such a win, right?

Thank you so much for this question—I think that it’s so smart and a perfect kickoff to this series. We are the first generation of parents and teachers raising digital kids without having been them. That means that we’re learning how to do this alongside our kids, which makes it tricky! Thank you for giving me the chance to dig into this with you!

If your kids are starting to show an interest in the online world…

I have a detailed checklist for you to use. It’s super helpful and you can get it RIGHT HERE.

Galit Breen is the author of Kindness Wins, a simple, no-nonsense guide to teaching our kids how to be kind online; the TEDx Talk, “Raising a digital kid without having been one”; the online course Raise Your Digital Kid™; and the Facebook group The Savvy Parents Club. You can get her parents’ checklist for moms of new(ish) digital kids RIGHT HERE.

P.S. This is a 6 week series about raising digital kids. Next week we’ll be digging into how to keep kids safe online while still letting them have fun and explore. See you then!


About the Author

Galit Breen

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