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My #1 Rule for Screen Time

In my last blog, I discussed the first step in managing screen time for tweens during remote learning: the setup of a screen time block schedule. This kind of schedule allows your child to enjoy entertainment and social screen time, while not letting screen time take over their lives.  As they mature and practice, they can learn to maintain this balance on their own - and such a schedule will no longer be necessary.  

However, for most families, establishing a schedule is not enough to manage screen time.  Many kids won’t be motivated right away to follow this schedule - especially if they’re used to having more screen time.  So - how do we motivate tweens to get on board with balanced screen time?

Lay Down my #1 Rule For Screen Time

You only need ONE screen time rule to accomplish this task. My #1 Rule for Screen Time:  Kids can only have access to their screen when they are on board with using their screens in healthy ways. 

Think of it this way: Would you let your child learn to drive if they were not on board with learning how to do so safely? Of course not. Screens, like cars, pose safety risks when not operated wisely.  Kids should only be allowed to have screen time when they are on board with learning how to use screen time in a healthy and responsible way.  

Here’s how to explain this to your tween:

“In this house, you only get (non-academic) screen time when you are practicing using screens in healthy, balanced ways. When I see you doing this, I will trust you with (non-academic) screen time. Screen time is too potentially addictive and dangerous to let you have it if you aren’t on board with learning to use it wisely. So, if I don’t see the effort, you’ll have a screen time break (other than academics). Then you can try again when I see that you are ready to work on using devices in healthy ways.”

Explain What Healthy Screen Time Looks Like

OK, now your kid is listening! Your next job is to instill a vision of healthy versus unhealthy screen time. What does healthy, safe, balanced screen time look like, especially during a pandemic and remote learning? 

Healthy screen time means that your tween...

  1. Maintains focus on academics and avoids toggling over to other online activities in a way that interferes with learning (vs. disrupts learning by messaging, playing games, or other online activities)
  2. Unhooks at the end of screen time blocks (vs. becoming defiant, sneaking, or begging for more screen time)
  3. Docks devices and engages in other important life activities - chores, hobbies, physical exercise, homework, family time, play/unstructured boredom time (vs. only wanting screen time and being unwilling to engage in other activities)
  4. Engages in age-appropriate content online and respects any limit you have set (vs. seeking out content that is not developmentally appropriate)

Explain these benchmarks of healthy screen time to your tween and remember that anything less is unhealthy. Your take-home message to your tween: 

I want you to enjoy your screen time, stay connected to your friends during these isolating times, play games, relax with some videos, etc. I just want you to do it in healthy ways.”

Follow Through

Once your tween understands what you mean by ‘healthy screen time,’ and knows that they will only have screen time when they use screens in healthy ways, they are now motivated to get on board with your schedule and plan. Your tween will make mistakes - healthy screen time is not easy for any of us! Use those mistakes as learning opportunities, but stay consistent on your expectations that the schedule be followed daily, and that the benchmarks of healthy screen time be met. 

Despite your support, if ‘mistakes’ are more of a downright unwillingness to use screens in healthy ways-  be sure to follow through on my #1 Rule For Screen Time. Take their non-academic screen time away temporarily. Give it back when they are on board with learning healthy tech use. Remember, this rule is not in place to be mean or punish your child - it is there to keep them safe.  

Tune in for next week’s blog to learn how you can support your child so that they learn to hit those healthy screen time benchmarks., and then ultimately self-regulate their own screen time - without having you monitor!

Sign up for our newsletter 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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