Screen Time Rules

New Year, New Tech Habits: 11 Tips for Setting Screen Time Rules with Your Kids

Delaney Ruston, MD
January 10, 2023
Teen pondering something

Why have any screen time policies /rules for our kids anyway? Devices provide endless entertainment, connection to others, relief from FOMO, a sense of competency that comes from leveling up in a game, and much more. But at a cost. Allowing the “treat” side of tech (vs. the “tool” side) to overly consume our children’s time is not in their best interest, nor that of our families or schools.  

That’s why having policies /rules around tech is valuable and worth the work. But I am the last to claim that this is easy. You may know my personal story from Screenagers, where you saw me learning the hard way how critical it is to find ways to involve our kids in defining screen-time rules with us vs. my initial, more top-down techniques. 

At times your kids may want to refrain from participating. But don’t give up. Make sure you have some protected time to talk about science, love, and all the reasons why this is important.

Why now?

Katherine Milkman, a researcher, and author of How To Change, has found that people are particularly motivated to change behaviors after a “fresh start,” such as the New Year or the start of a new month. As humans, we love the idea of a clean slate.

Avoid scare tactics

A couple of headlines are making their way through the press, and while you may want to share them with your kids, be sure to be clear that these are association studies. What to make of each association will take time to decipher, so we must be careful to avoid drawing conclusions prematurely. These findings include associations between video gaming and obsessive-compulsive disorder and between social media and cognitive control

These papers come from the ABCD study, a coalition of researchers across the country studying kids over time and doing brain scans. We will continue to see more headlines about these associations. 

11 rules /policies to consider

Below are eleven tech-policy examples to consider talking about with your kids and making some decisions. As a parent, you may need to make some executive decisions if you can’t agree on things together. 

Finally, deciding on policies depends on many things, like your child’s age, so I’ve provided different variations.

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1. "You show, I observe" time, once a month —
This involves having your teen scroll on their social media for a few minutes while you sit with them. You get to see what comes up and you don’t react or critique, just observe. And then a day or two later is when you can reconvene to debrief a bit. Not to be judgmental or mad, but to think together about some messages and dynamics you both noticed on your teen's social media.

Pointer: try to schedule a day, like the first of each month, in which this will occur somewhat regularly.

2. Same as above, but do this exercise twice a month

3. Same as above, but with social video gaming platforms and specific games, such as Roblox, Discord, Legend of Zelda, Minecraft, etc. 

4. Everyone inventories their own screen time. Steps for conducting a family screen time inventory:

a. Agree on a time to share findings, such as at two dinners from now
b. Determine the method for tracking screen time that works best:

  • Check device settings to see if time spent gets recorded
  • Estimate time spent on different apps (e.g., Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, Snapchat, YouTube, Netflix, email) based on an average day
  • Log screen time for one day and estimate for the week

c. Each family member records their own screen time using the chosen method.
d. At the agreed time, share findings with the rest of the family.

6. Maximum of 1 hour at a time of video game play without a break 

7. Matching offline activity time for an equal amount of time engaged in online entertainment. For example, after scrolling TikTok for 20 minutes, maybe they help with cooking for that same amount of time.

8. Devices away at meal times

9. Devices away at dinner, but if eating other meals alone, like breakfast, it is okay.

10. Devices away in the kitchen at dinner time, i.e., when making dinner and while cleaning up after dinner

11. Devices out of the bedroom for sleep every night of the week

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Screen Time Rules

New Year, New Tech Habits: 11 Tips for Setting Screen Time Rules with Your Kids

Delaney Ruston, MD
January 10, 2023
Teen pondering something

Why have any screen time policies /rules for our kids anyway? Devices provide endless entertainment, connection to others, relief from FOMO, a sense of competency that comes from leveling up in a game, and much more. But at a cost. Allowing the “treat” side of tech (vs. the “tool” side) to overly consume our children’s time is not in their best interest, nor that of our families or schools.  

That’s why having policies /rules around tech is valuable and worth the work. But I am the last to claim that this is easy. You may know my personal story from Screenagers, where you saw me learning the hard way how critical it is to find ways to involve our kids in defining screen-time rules with us vs. my initial, more top-down techniques. 

At times your kids may want to refrain from participating. But don’t give up. Make sure you have some protected time to talk about science, love, and all the reasons why this is important.

Why now?

Katherine Milkman, a researcher, and author of How To Change, has found that people are particularly motivated to change behaviors after a “fresh start,” such as the New Year or the start of a new month. As humans, we love the idea of a clean slate.

Avoid scare tactics

A couple of headlines are making their way through the press, and while you may want to share them with your kids, be sure to be clear that these are association studies. What to make of each association will take time to decipher, so we must be careful to avoid drawing conclusions prematurely. These findings include associations between video gaming and obsessive-compulsive disorder and between social media and cognitive control

These papers come from the ABCD study, a coalition of researchers across the country studying kids over time and doing brain scans. We will continue to see more headlines about these associations. 

11 rules /policies to consider

Below are eleven tech-policy examples to consider talking about with your kids and making some decisions. As a parent, you may need to make some executive decisions if you can’t agree on things together. 

Finally, deciding on policies depends on many things, like your child’s age, so I’ve provided different variations.

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