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Beyond Screen Time Limits

Get insights, tips and ideas straight from clinical psychologist, Dr. Demi Rhine

Screens as Reward or Punishment (Part II): What to do Instead

Jan 20, 2021

Parents often use screen time to motivate their children to do things... 

  • “If you clean your room, you can have an extra hour of game time;”  
  • “If you get an A in math, I’ll get you your own phone.”  

… or to not do things:

  • “If you are rude to me one more time, I’m taking away your laptop!”
  • “You hit your sister! No games tonight!”

The problem with those types of rules is that they are arbitrary. They don’t really make much sense. What does screen time have to do with a clean room or hitting a sibling? Nothing. How will getting an A in math demonstrate that a child is ready for their own phone? It won’t.  

Though using screen time as a reward/punishment can work in the short term, it eventually backfires down the road (for a deeper dive read Part I). It can inadvertently make a kid want screen time more because it is being held up as a reward, something to be coveted and desired. It can also promote bargaining - “But mom, last time I cleaned my room I got more game time. Why not this time?” - which leads to conflict and confusion.  

And yet, parents need rules around screen time.  If screen time is not used as a reward or punishment, what should the rules be? 

Parents need only one rule for screen time. Here it is: Give and take away screen time based on how your kid uses screen time. What does this look like?

Start Small

Screen time exists on a spectrum. Less screen time is easier for kids to manage than more screen time. It’s easier to log off after a show on Netflix than to log off of a group game like Roblox. So start with a smaller amount of “easier” screen time so your child can practice healthy screen time and be successful. 

Healthy screen time is when they can:

  • Log off without a tantrum or grumpy mood
  • Keep screen time in balance with the rest of their lives, continuing to pursue their hobbies, getting school work done, completing chores, etc. rather than allowing screen time to dominate interests and time 
  • Respect limits, and not sneak extra screen time or apps that have been forbidden. 
  • Stay on task while online
  • Keep themselves and others safe in the online world

Screen time can be so hooking that all of these can be difficult - and yet this is what healthy screen time looks like.  

Add Screen Time When...

As you see your child using screen time in a healthy and responsible way, you slowly build to “harder” screen time - more time or access to apps, devices, and platforms that are more hooking and difficult to manage. When you see them logging off easily, keeping screen time in balance, staying honest, you tell them “Great, you’re handling your screen time business! You’re ready for a bit more.” That's when you allow them to have additional time, a new app they’ve been asking for, or maybe even their own device. 

Dial Back Screen Time When...

Now, if they take a turn into unhealthy screen time - start begging for more game time, sneaking or becoming dishonest, losing interest in hobbies in favor of screens, missing school work assignments because they can’t stay off YouTube - this is the time to dial back screen time. These behaviors are your child’s way of communicating to you that they cannot handle the level of screen time they have. They can’t unhook. It’s not their fault - they just aren’t quite there yet.  

Reduce screen time. Take away problematic games, apps, or devices temporarily. Have them do schoolwork where an adult can watch them, versus alone in their room. When they can demonstrate healthy screen time, you let them slowly try again. Allow them to play their game again and see if they can log off gracefully. Go back to allowing them to do schoolwork in their room and see if they can stay focused. Give them their device again and see if they can stay honest.  

This way of doing screen time motivates your child to be healthy with their devices because that’s the only way they get screen time. It keeps your kid safe because you never give them more than they can handle. And though your child may not like this way at first, over time your child will come around because it is consistent and fair, and lays down a clear path for them to gain the freedom and access they so desire.  

Navigating screen time with children is tough for most parents. If you need some extra help setting up an effective plan and/or teaching your child the skills needed for healthy and responsible screen time, we invite you to learn more about our program. We got you covered!

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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