Written by Doctor G

Screen time – Do I need to limit it? Part 2: The plan.

Screen Time – both the 2 yo and the 12 yo are ADDICTED to screens, phones, ipads, computers, tv’s etc. If they aren’t on one thing they are on another. The 2yo will scream at me for the ipad and the 12yo will sneak off into her room only for me to find her on her laptop streaming videos. Despite all of these screens I do love how much it captivates my tots when I need to cook dinner or do some work of my own (on a screen) I do not know how to limit this anymore and it almost easier to just let them rot their brains…. advice?

Lecia, in NYC, NY

A:A couple of days ago we talked about why it is necessary to even have this battle. Now let’s talk about ways to win it.
This is hard, like any behavioral change. It is a little harder because you are clearly making your life a little harder by limiting their screen time. Don’t worry. You can still plug your kids in when necessary or useful to you or to them. Now that you are motivated to limit their screen time to less than 2 hours a day, what can you do?
It is time for you (and your co-parent) to come up with a tech policy in your house.

1. Limit the locations. Make a rule that screens can only be used in certain (common area) rooms in your home. Exceptions to this rule need to be requested EACH TIME and should be rarely granted.

2. Keep track. I am not organized enough to keep track of my four kids screen times each day, so I have made it the kids’ responsibility. What?! The honor system? Is she kidding? Not kidding, and not ridiculously naïve. Of course you are going to have to keep a general sense of how long they have been watching/playing in each day.

a. For younger kids (12 and under), give them a kitchen timer (magnet on the fridge works at    our house). One for each child. Set it for the 2 hours (less if you are brave). Each time they use a screen that day they hit start. When they put it away they can hit stop. When the time runs out they are done for the day.

b. This teaches budgeting, honesty, delayed gratification.

c. This time includes screen time outside of your home.

d. For kids 3 and under, you are going to have to be in charge of the kitchen timer. It’s not developmentally reasonable to ask her to do it.

e. Reward your child for their integrity or compliance with praise.

f. Give consequences for abuse of the privilege. See below.

3. Set some consequences and rewards. Make these explicit. For kids who read, I really recommend writing down the rules and the connected consequences.

a. Make them logical. If she goes over her time, it comes off the next days’ time. If she uses a device without permission or in private, that device is off limits for a certain amount of time.

b. For a younger child, this needs to be like any other rule. She needs to do as you’ve asked and do your best not to be swayed by a tantrum. You are doing what is best for her and she doesn’t need to love it.

c. Come up with a list of alternate fun activities she can do at home. Have your child help you make this list. Put it where she can see it, with pictures if possible for non-readers, and make it a very long list. This can ease the transition out of electronics time. For a younger child it will help even more if you can make the time to start one of these activities with her, since she is young enough that your attention is often even better than a screen.

d. Does your child want a new electronic gadget (hardly ever happens, I know)? Let her prove her reliability by adhering to the rules for an extended period of time.

e. Consider letting your kids “earn” extra screen time with a 2:1 ratio of vigorous play or exercise. This shows your priority of physical fitness and teaches good habits.

4. Explain your reasoning. When kids don’t like something, they may not care about the “why.” But when we make a major behavioral shift at home, it shows respect for our kids to teach them the philosophy behind the change. In this case you are saying, “Hey, we learned that this thing we love can be bad if we do it too much. So even if it’s hard, we’re going to learn to limit it.”

a. “But you don’t limit your screen time!” It is valuable for kids to learn that children’s bodies and brains have different needs than grown up ones. Also, we should probably also limit our screen time. But don’t tell my kids I said that.

b. “Oh, don’t worry parents. I am the exception to this. I am active and healthy and will never suffer from too much screen time.” Thanks, sweetie. Rule still applies.

c. “But all my friends do it!” You could always say, “Guess their parents don’t love them like we love you.” In case that seems too harsh, you can try my friend Sue’s answer, “Why don’t you ask if you can live with them?” Or the truth: “Different families, different rules. Sorry kiddo.”


This is a big change! It will take a while and, let’s face the truth, it will occasionally suck. But you are doing the right thing. You are building great habits. You are preventing a whole lot of mess. So give it a try and email me or call me – (888) 9ASK DR G – with questions.

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2 thoughts on “Screen time – Do I need to limit it? Part 2: The plan.”

  1. So, I am one with a 2.5 yo, and I had no idea he was getting about 4 hrs some days. I don’t mind it to unwind before bed, or if we have a movie night, but it was him watching kid-friendly YouTube clips, Nick Jr., WQED, DVD’s…

    As long as I don’t turn on the TV, he will play elsewhere. It is when he begs for the IPhone (thank goodness we don’t have an IPad yet), or a DVD that I need to set your suggestions in action.

    These will definitely help colder months! May want to bring this one back again then.

  2. I think in this day and age this is a universal problem. The biggest one I face is the “But my friends…” excuse. I like your straight-forward response to this.
    One thing I do with my kids is we have gone over different hobbies they are interested in (My 14 yr old boy likes to drum, for example), as well as fun activities they like to do (the 9 yr old and 6 yr old boy like to play board games together, as another example) and we simply schedule it. They are required to spend a certain amount of time on their hobby/activity before they get “screen” time. A lot of balking at first, but once it’s established, they actually appreciate it.

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