Limiting Screen Time
I’m here to share practical real-life tips and scripts for facing screen time limiting for kids with a Q and A from the trenches of parenthood.
We’ve got you!
Some parents have strict limits on screen time, some families do not limit screen. There are also some families that do not allow screens at all, as in, they do not have a TV in the house. No matter where you fall on the spectrum, because technology is all around us, it is good to be intentional about how screens are used in our homes.
Not a debate on how much
For the purposes of this post, we are not going to debate how much screen time limiting kids “should” have.
There are many studies about that here and here. I encourage you to do some research and talk to your doctor. Educate yourself so you are empowered as the parent to decide what is best for you and your child and his or her needs.
In this post, we are addressing the times when the parent has decided that less screen time is desired, screen time limiting is their choice, and the parent is looking for support regarding how to face the resistance from the child.
Altogether Mostly is here to help parents be intentional about:
- Strengthing relationships with love and respect
- Determining a family’s values and what aligns with them
- Doing what is best for each individual family member’s needs
- Choosing sustainable actions that parents are comfortable with implementing consistently
These are real conversations I have had with parents, but I have changed some of the details for the privacy of the families. I share them with you to empower you with the values and tools you can use right away.
There might be affiliate links in this post, which means if you use a qualifying link and buy something or start a free trial, for example, I might get paid at no additional cost you. Thank you for that!
Limiting Screen Time Q and A
Example One: Guilty Mom
Q: I need some help. We did not allow screen time for our son at all, at first. Limiting screen time is consistent for everyone in our family, even for ourselves, especially around children. We believe it is not good for developing brains and we want to put off its use as long as possible in favor of more intentional connect.
Then, I was expecting our twins, around my first son’s second birthday. My husband was working more in preparation for taking time off with us after the babies came and I needed breaks and to get somethings done.
Enter the TV
About 2-3 times a week in the late afternoon, I would put on a simple, quiet show for 20-30 minutes. He would calmly watch, I would rest or finish something and that was that.
Then after a few weeks, he started pointing to the TV and saying “show, show.” Other times, he brought the remote to me and would say a character’s name, “Tiger, tiger,” for example.
I let him watch more often as it was really convenient for me so I could get things done efficiently (I was napping when he napped most days because of carrying twins).
I want to change
Now, I am feeling so uncomfortable with this and super guilty. I’m so ashamed I gave in to allowing screens in such a casual way. There are many days that I would let him watch for a few hours and I never dreamed I would do that.
Not only that, but I get anxious when he has a strong reaction to when I say no to screen time now. I’m already anxious about the task ahead, managing newborn twins and a screeching toddler.
He does not understand why I say yes sometimes and other times I don’t. And I don’t know either. I need help!
A: First, you need to think about why this makes you feel uncomfortable. What are your misgivings about it? Is it the amount of time? The content? Is he missing out on other learning? Is it based on your guilt and shame? Are you holding on to a belief about screens that can be investigated more?
I know that’s deep, but it’s important to know what your convictions and values are based on here. It will help you move forward with purpose.
Once you and your husband have discussed and articulated your values, it will help you hold firm to your boundaries going forward.
The next step is to make the limit very clear with your son and then following through consistently.
You might even consider writing down what you and your husband decided about the parameter for screen use and put it somewhere you can see. This will help remind you and strengthen your commitment.
If you don’t want him watching, don’t let him. I dare say, especially if he does have a meltdown about it. You are not comfortable with “more” screen time, don’t do it.
position -250, 73, 78
“No, you have watched [your screen limit] today. I won’t let you watch more.”
I know that that is easier said than done. That is why we are here, but…
Here is the key:
He is allowed to ask. You are allowed to say no. He is allowed to not like that you say no and to proceed to tell you all about it (tantrum). You are allowed to calmly continue with the boundary that you have set. Period.
“I hear you. You wanted to watch. I said I won’t let you. You sound very upset.”
Then calmly move forward with the intended next activity as soon as he’s ready.
You love your children and are setting this limit because you are convinced it is the best choice for your family. You are empowered to feel great about it even when he does not like it. You’ve got this!
Limiting Screen Time Q and A
Example Two: Angry Outbursts
Q: My daughter has started breaking things when she is angry. Banning a bad show she likes is what set her off this time and honestly, I am now admitting that her screen time has been out of control and is probably contributing to her behavioral problems. In these moments, nothing I say helps her calm down. It only makes her angrier. She is almost 8, and prone to anxiety. Any suggestions?
A: Anger can feel so unsettling to experience, even from someone half our size. But you do not have to feel rattled by her expression. These are the moments when parenting can feel the most intense, but you do not have to feel out of control even if her behavior seems extreme right now.
Behavior is communication
First, remember, the behavior is communication. No one wants to feel out of control like that, but they are ‘saying’ something. It is not comfortable, but a need is driving it. Remembering this helps us accept how she is acting without layering judgment on top.
When reactions seem out of proportion to the event, think, “My child is not giving me a hard time, she is having a hard time.” This helps us have compassion, which in turn can help us stay calm(er).
If the behavior is communication, what could she be saying by acting this way? That is what you will have to find out. Get tuned in and patiently observant and try to really listen. But one possibility is that the exposure to screens, the kind of media, or the lack of physical activity is wreaking havoc in her neurological system. The good news is that you can help!
You stated that you believe her screen time has been out of control and is probably contributing to her behavior. If that is true, you can feel confident that you are helping her find freedom from a life-controlling problem. I know that sounds intense, but if we think about the addictive nature of screens, helping her find freedom now will be a lasting tool to help her find freedom from many habits throughout her life.
Make a clear decision
Secondly, decide what is best for her and stand strong in kindness and confidence. That means setting clear and consistent limits. For this example, start with screen time and media content. Decide and then explain clearly what you will and will not allow based on your parenting values.
Next, set yourself up for success. Start by working with her to create a safe space, a peaceful place for her to go when she feels her anger is out of control.
For this example, you might clean out her room of anything that could be dangerous or broken. Maybe add some soft, calming items, such as a sensory bottle (link), a loved plush toy, a calming image on the wall (link), or a privacy tent for her bed to create a safe feeling. Here’s a link to one to show what I mean. (NOTE: It is not necessary to BUY anything. The primary goal is to make this a place where she feels she safe and can find peace and strength.)
Then when a strong reaction starts, say, “I hear you. You really wanted that show. I won’t let you watch it. It sounds like you do not like that at all. You are welcome to take all the time you need in your room where it is safe. I am here when you need me.”
Gently guide her to her peaceful place and allow her to get her feelings out about it. She is allowed to not like the limits and let you know all about it and you are empowered to hold firm to your convictions unwaveringly.
You love your daughter and are limiting screens because you want to help her with her anger. Be empowered to feel confident doing this for her even when she resists.
You’ve got this!
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For more tips on handling big emotions, check out this post: How to Handle Big Emotions Like a Mother.
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About the author, Jaime
At Altogether Mostly, you will find grace, compassion, joy, and beauty. I use empathy and a little tough love to bring out the best in people. I live in the Midwest United States with my loving husband and awesome children. For more about me and Altogether Mostly, please visit my about page here.