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5 Tips for Taming Screen Time Tantrums

“Nooooo. That’s not fair. I want to keep playing my game!!!” Does that sound familiar? At some point, most of our children have thrown a tantrum when told that their screen time is up. With the increase in screen time during COVID, more children are having difficulty logging off. So what do you do? Keep reading to learn 5 key tips for dealing with screen time tantrums.

Tip #1: Connect with your child

The first thing parents need to do is stay connected with their children. Logging off brings up big feelings for children, and their resistance to doing so brings up big feelings for parents! This can easily turn into a pattern of screen time conflict.  An easy mindset shift can prevent this from happening.  Normally parents approach screen time from a mindset of  “Screen time is terrible, get off now!” Instead, try saying “I absolutely understand why it’s so hard to get off of devices. They are built to hook your attention and keep you wanting more. I get it - I have a hard time logging off too sometimes. Let’s figure out how we can help make it easier.” Making this mindset shift lets your child know that it’s not their fault that it’s hard to unhook.  It is hard for everyone including you, and that you are in this together. By connecting with your child you are opening the door to a discussion that can lead to teaching your child the art of logging off their screen time.  You cannot influence your child if you are not connected with them.

Tip #2: Set a screen time routine

Children do better when they have a routine and know what to expect and when. It’s no different with screen time. Schedule screen time at the same time and duration every day. For example, my children do an hour of educational screen time from 10-11 am.  Then at 4 pm, they can use the family iPad for an hour of any age-appropriate content that they choose. A screen time routine reduces the constant, “Can I have my screen time now?” and makes it easier for children to engage in other activities as they know exactly when and how much screen time they will get.  

Tip #3: Pre-plan for log off time  

Make sure you and your child have come up with a plan in advance for how to help them log off. Talk your child through what they will do to wind down and shut down and what the plan is if they find it hard to unhook from their device. Perhaps you help set a timer that gives them 5 minutes to start to wrap up what they are doing online. Perhaps you can agree together on an enjoyable activity they can do after logging off, to make the unhooking process easier.  For some children, a way to celebrate their log off successes may help - a sticker chart, a special treat or a hug and tickle from a parent.  When the log off time comes along, make sure to be there to support their follow through on the plan.  Remember that logging off is difficult for all of us, so stay connected as they try to enact the plan you made together.   Having a plan makes it easier to anticipate and overcome difficulties when they arise. 

Tip #4: When all else fails...remove & rebuild

 If the first 3 tips aren’t working for your child, this is a sign that they are “in over their heads” with screen time.  They either can’t unhook or they aren’t (yet) willing to try.  Whichever the case, a screen time break will help.  Tell them that screen time is only available to children who can unhook enough to log off and that they will need to take a break from screen time until they seem ready to try again. Give your child a few days to unhook entirely (or just allow school-related tasks, if they’re back in school) and when you think they are ready, start again with a small amount of screen time to continue working on unhooking.  When they can log off without throwing a tantrum, slowly give them a bit more time until you reach their screen time limit.  This strategy will motivate your child to work on unhooking and allows you to see how much screen time your child can handle successfully. 

Tip #5: Don’t give up. You can do this.

Teach your child that tantrums won’t work. Throwing a tantrum should not result in getting screen time. Children should only be allowed more screen time when they have shown that they are able to responsibly manage it. In this case, a tantrum demonstrates the opposite - that they are not ready for the screen time that they have been given. This lesson may take a while to sink in but don’t give up, you’ll get there. 

This process is critical to the overall goal of equipping your child with the skills and habits needed for healthy tech use.  Logging off is hard for many adults so try to be patient with your child who hasn’t developed all of the cognitive skills to self-regulate their tech use! Teaching a child the art of unhooking is giving them a gift that will last a lifetime.  

Sign up for our newsletter (click the 'sign up' button on this page) to get healthy screen time insights and tips from clinical psychologist, Dr. Demi Rhine.  

About Beyond Limits Academy

Beyond Limits is a simple step-by-step online program that teaches parents how to prepare their children for a lifetime of safe and healthy technology use. Going beyond just screen time limits, our skills-based approach provides a clear roadmap that reduces conflict and sets children up to manage their own tech use independently and responsibly. In an increasingly digital world, preparing our children to use technology wisely is no longer an option . . . it's a necessity.

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