Screen-time Rules and Your Family


Many of us have loosened our screen time rules during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you’re looking to get your family’s media usage back on track or start a new media plan for your family, you’re in the right place. Now that the world is opening up, and more alternative activities are available for you and your family, it may be time to take a look at your media usage.

At some point, as a parent, you’ll likely want to develop a plan for media usage in your household. You might find that “no limits” work just fine for your kiddo. Other families may need to limit exposure. For most families, finding the balance between media and other important activities takes time, experimentation, and patience. When we can be intentional about what we watch, how much and when we use media, we can monitor our kids’ usage and help them to keep agreements that we make together. For younger kids, of course, parents will decide the guidelines based on their developmental age and needs. Here are some things to consider while navigating the digital realm with your family.

Ninety-eight percent of households with children 8 and under have access to a mobile device, such as a tablet or smartphone. Media is here to stay!

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) encourages parents to develop personalized media use plans for their children. Media plans should take into account each child’s age, health, personality, and developmental stage. The AAP has a tool you can use to create a personalized media plan for your family.

In general, the AAP recommends:

  • 18 months and younger: No screen media other than video-chatting with relatives or friends. There are many studies that support this stance, although it may be challenging to implement. Screens are pervasive in our lives, but with some forethought and planning you can get closer to this recommendation in your family.
  • 18 to 24 months: Choose high-quality programming/apps and use them together with children. Children learn by interacting with you, especially social emotional skills like self regulation.
  • Older than 2 years: Limit screen use to no more than 1 hour or less per day of high-quality programming. Co-view or co-play with your children, and find other activities to do together, such as reading or playing outside.

Another tool you could use is the a “5 W’s” approach – Who? What? When? Where? And Why?

WHO: Your decision about screen time may come down to your child’s age or personality. Some children have an easier time balancing screen time with their other activities. For others, it can potentially heighten undesirable behavior. Also, if your child is having a hard time with social interactions or learning to read social cues, it might be a good idea to limit their screen exposure and spend more time working on those skills with friends and family. Remember that children learn through relationships with the people around them. Try to set aside time for interacting with others.

WHAT: As part of your media plan, you’ll want to decide what types of media your child can have access to. Do they have access to the family computer? TV? Netflix? YouTube? None of the above?

A carefully selected list of apps and video games can go a long way in helping you feel comfortable about your child’s media usage. If your child comes home from school, raving about a game that everyone is talking about, take the time to learn about it and then decide whether it’s age and developmentally appropriate; perhaps even consider what your child has to gain from it.

Common Sense Media has a helpful list of educational apps for kids ages 5-8. They recommend:

  • Crazy Gears: A STEM-based app that lets kids freely create, problem solve, and explore physics.

WHEN AND WHERE: If you’re looking to keep screen time to a minimum or just want to monitor it more carefully, you may want to choose the time of day and for how long your child can watch. An example could be 1 hour of screen time after school and an additional 2 hours on the weekend after chores are completed. A best practice is to make sure screen time happens in a family area, such as the living room, where you can keep tabs on how they are using their time and review content if you’re concerned.

Your kids may be asking you for access to media in their bedroom. Whether or not to allow a TV or other media in the kids’ bedroom has both pros and cons. On the plus side, the kids may not have as many disagreements about what to watch. On the other hand, more TVs available will likely lead to more TV viewing. You will not be able to monitor what they watch as closely, and could lead to less interaction with other family members.

WHY: There’s no denying that technology is going to be a part of our children’s future. That being said, not all media is created equal. Many tech experts emphasize quality over quantity.

When selecting educational apps, there are some easy-to-follow guidelines:

  • The app is distraction-free, including no advertisements.
  • The app has clearly defined learning objectives.
  • The app is interactive and offers feedback.

Finding Balance

Think about your own media usage and take an honest look at how it may be affecting your family. Are you able to put your phone down when your child is talking to you or needs your attention? Are you finding yourself getting frustrated when you’re trying to get something done online and your child needs you right then? Do you turn off your phone during meals? Letting your child see you enjoying other activities outside of any media is a great way to model what you would like for them…

One approach to media usage is to think of it like any other hobby. If your child wanted to practice soccer all day, you would likely step in and make sure she was spending a healthy amount of time doing other activities. When considering your media plan, make sure your child is making time for reading, exercise, spending time in nature, interacting with others, etc. If you’re finding that the media is interfering, renegotiate until you get the balance right for you and your child.

Also consider this tip from Common Sense Media: “Don’t feel guilty. With each wave of the pandemic, we’re experiencing disruptions to our routines, shock, and even trauma. When families are navigating high-stress situations, counting screen minutes should be low on the list of concerns.”

This article is brought to you by Parenting Now Parenting Educators and authors Amanda Bedortha, Claire Davis, and Lynne Grilley. 

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If you live in Lane County, you can get Triple P Online for free by filling out the form below. A staff person from Parenting Now will send you an access code within 24 hours and you’ll be able to start using the program right away! For more information about the program visit the LaneKids Triple P homepage.

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