add_filter( 'rocket_lazyload_youtube_thumbnail_extension', function( $extension ) {return 'webp'; });

There are a multitude of differing, if not conflicting, opinions out there on the topic of screens and children. Are screen activities (phone, tablet, computer, television, video game, etc.) a learning experience or a potentially dangerous experience? A necessity or a distraction? A means of socialization or a hindrance to it? A privilege or a right? Let’s not worry about picking a side at this point. Rather, let’s focus on what we can do to establish healthy boundaries and help children navigate the minefield that is screen activities.

Why is it important? There are many reasons to provide children with guidance and boundaries for screen activities including potential exposure to content that is violent, sexually explicit, promotes hate/stereotypes, encourages unsafe behavior and online predators. That said, please consider two of the most basic reasons:

Reason #1: Children spend A LOT of time on screens. A 2019 report found that American children 8 to 12 years old were using screens for entertainment an average of 4 hours and 44 minutes per day, while teens were on screens for an average of 7 hours and 22 minutes per day. These numbers don’t include time on screens for schoolwork or homework. Screen use soared during the pandemic and may remain elevated from these pre-pandemic statistics.

Reason #2: There is only so much time in the day. Excessive time on screens essentially steals time away from other activities that promote children’s wellbeing and development such as sleep, playing with peers in person, spending time with family, reading, chores, homework and physical activity.

What can we do to provide healthy boundaries and helpful guidance to our children regarding screen activities?

As we discuss boundaries, it may be helpful to keep in mind that while a child may feel that they “own” their phone or tablet, caregivers are ultimately responsible for managing the use of these devices, particularly given that they are likely paying for the internet and/or phone bill. This is similar to managing use of other items the child views as personal possessions such as requiring your child to wear a helmet when they ride their bike and providing limits on the distance that they are allowed to travel on their bike. While a child may feel that they own a device, that does not entitle them to unrestricted use of that device. Consider having children “check out” devices from parents similar to a library book. It’s also helpful to collect all devices at bedtime to be charged in a location not accessible to children.

Boundaries or limits may initially seem like a punishment to children or their caregivers. If you’re struggling with this idea, consider thinking of it another way. When you limit screen time, you’re actually giving your child the gift of time to do other things and pursue other interests that will help them grow into an interesting and well rounded individual. It may take your child another twenty years to agree with you on this one but they may thank you later!

Sometimes parents/caregivers have concerns that limiting screen time for their children will hinder their children’s ability to place limits on their screen time themselves. Let’s consider that learning to self-regulate is a journey. And, apps use algorithms to keep users engaged. Think for a moment about how you approach access to other highly desired activities and items. Would it be reasonable to put a bucket of candy in the living room and expect your children to restrain themselves? Maybe not. But when provided with limits, guidance and modeling of healthy eating habits over many years, it’s reasonable to hope that children will establish healthy habits eventually.

Consider creating a family media plan to establish expectations for content, safety, privacy, screen free times of the day such as meals and bedtime, screen free zones such as bedroom. Aim to keep online activities in public areas of the home so that activities and content can be monitored. Try to keep devices out of bedrooms, particularly at night, so screen activities don’t steal your child’s precious sleep.

Having a family media plan may help to reduce behavioral challenges related to screen activities. Have you ever felt frustrated by your child’s behavior when it’s time for them to transition off of a screen activity? Transitioning from a highly reinforcing/fun screen activity to a less exciting activity such as homework, bedtime, meal, you name it, tends to be tough, particularly when the transition feels unexpected to the child. Having a concrete plan should help to make transitions and limits more predictable and, hopefully, less emotionally distressing.

When limits are placed on screen time, there is also the added benefit of being able to use extra screen time as a reward for desired behaviors. Consider having children earn additional screen time for specific behaviors you’d like to see more of such as completing chores or homework.

This website can be used to create a family media/screen plan tailored to your needs:

Downloadable cell phone contracts between children and their caregivers:


The Common Sense Census: Media Use by Tweens and Teens, 2019