Family, Kids & Relationships

Parenting Hacks THAT WORK For Controlling Kids’ Screen Time

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If you’re having trouble limiting kids’ screen time, you’re definitely not alone. With so much time at home in recent months, many kids have gotten extra attached to devices, and trying to take them away can turn into a major point of contention between kids and parents. But as hard as it can be to call an end to a screentime session, it can be an even bigger challenge to limit access to screens in the first place. Members of our Coronavirus Parents Facebook group shared their struggles as well as some smart suggestions for how to gain control over the situation.

Many parents say they don’t allow screens at all until kids have finished chores, exercise, and academic work for the day. To make this rule as clear as possible, give kids a checklist of what needs to get done each day before they’ve earned their screen time. Then simply put devices and chargers away every night, and don’t take them out again until all their tasks are complete—a plan that fits well with experts’ recommendations that kids shouldn’t keep devices in their rooms at night anyway.

If your kiddos need more motivation, use a roll of tickets or a Monopoly money system for them to earn screen time. By doing chores and homework tasks on the list, they can earn fake money that they can then use to “buy” their own screen time. That way, your kids are actually in control of their own screen time—so if they whine for extra time, instead of butting heads over it you can just say, “Sorry that you used up all your tickets,” and they’ll be incentivized to earn more.

It’s also possible to restrict WiFi access, screen access, or app access for certain devices at certain times. Use an app like OurPact to set up rules for your family’s devices, or use the parental controls available through many internet providers or routers. These allow you to pre-schedule access or pause the internet from your phone wherever you need to. This type of WiFi/screen time schedule can even help you get more of a day-to-day routine going for your family, so that everyone knows what to expect and there won’t be as much resistance around exercise/outdoor time, reading time, chores, etc. 

When kids seem to be addicted to their video games or YouTube to the point that they dread doing anything else, you may need to take measures to help them reset. One way many parents have tried is to take away screens for a whole week or even longer, so that kids can relearn how to occupy themselves with hands-on activities and their imaginations again.

If they’re struggling with what to do without screens, maybe it’s time to strive for more hands-on activities with the kids like cooking projects, water balloon fights, or playing family board games. You could set a certain hour of the day or a certain day of the week for this family time—during which you agree to stick to the no-screen rule as well. You can also brainstorm a list together of things they would enjoy doing in their spare time (especially while you’re busy working), like drawing, learning to juggle, making up card tricks, decorating their room, or building a model city.

Whichever approach you use to restrict access to screens, have a discussion with your kids where you come to an agreement about how the system will work each day or each week. Planning that in advance—and getting the kids to agree—can take some of the pressure off you, because you don’t have to make new rules or guidelines on a case-by-case basis. And if you find that kids still have meltdowns once you tell them their screen time is over, try some of these strategies.

Joanna Eng is a staff writer and digital content specialist at ParentsTogether. She lives with her wife and two kids in New York, where she loves to hike, try new foods, and check out way too many books from the library.