How To Limit Screen Time

Two boys looking at computer screen
by Hally Spiller, Boys & Girls Clubs of America

In a more and more digitally-connected world, we know our screens provide connection, communication and information – but we also know that screens can be addictive and that hours spent scrolling might be impacting our mental health, our productivity and our relationships.

The same is true for kids and teens, who experience screen time through TV and movies, apps and games, texting and social media. Many young people are already spending many virtual hours dedicated to school. When you add on screen time during free hours, it can start feeling like everyone in your household is glued to a phone, tablet or monitor.

In fact, a 2019 study by Common Sense Media showed that the average teenager spends more than seven hours on screens daily, not including schoolwork, and ages 8 to 12 spend more than four hours on screens. Besides zapping up everyone’s time, digital platforms such as social media can affect young people’s self-esteem.

When we consider the effects of social media on teens, it’s important to know what screen time looks like for your young person, and when it’s time to regulate it. Here are some ways to reduce screen time in your household. And while they apply to kids and teens, they can work for adults, too! Set expectations and create a screen time “code of conduct.”

Just like when creating a family internet safety “code of conduct,” have a conversation with your household about how screens are currently being used, what’s changing and why. It’s up to you how formal or informal this is, but the main thing is to open up a dialogue with your kids so that they understand your expectations, can inform the plan with their own ideas and can ask for changes.

As you’re making your screen time code of conduct, consider the following…

Prioritize how you spend your screen time – including what’s necessary and what’s most enjoyable.

Consider how screens are used in your household. What is essential? This may include things like: school projects, Facetiming Grandma, paying bills. Then ask your family members what they most enjoy doing on screens – for one kid it may be video games, for another it may be TikTok, and for you it may be looking up recipes. As you prioritize how screen time is spent, be sure to include both what’s essential and what everyone most enjoys doing, so that your screen time is balanced.

Employ tools to help you be successful at reducing screen time.

This might be time limits on apps and devices that auto-shut down after a designated amount of time or having a timer that lets your kid know just how much time they have left. Or maybe it’s a basket where family members drop their phones when it’s dinner time. And just like when creating any new habit, when possible, give a few options that help transition from one activity to the next – after screen time is over, is it time for a snack break? Play time in the backyard? Time to set the table? Knowing some options for what’s next helps make setting down the screen easier.

reate designated times when phones are put away.

Whether it’s family dinner, walks around the neighborhood or after a certain hour at night, designate a few phone-free times and keep them consistent. During these designated times, the focus should be on the task at hand, and with practice, this screen-free time will become routine.

Model your own commitment to being present.

Be part of the change in your household and model your own commitment to reducing screen time. Share your own struggles with it – days when you totally got off track and didn’t follow the code of conduct, and how it made you feel. And most of all, during screen-free time together, be present. When your kids see you living in the moment, they’re more likely to come and join you. By being open with your expectations, consistent and part of the process, you can help your household reduce screen time. Plus, time management is a valuable skill for kids and teens learning to be more responsible.

Now that you all have all this time back… how will you spend it?