4 Key rules for reducing screen time

Tech Talk Tuesday #53: Does your family have the 4 key rules to help reduce screen time?

Delaney RUston, M.D., Screenagers Filmmaker photo by: Lauri Levenfeld/the Project for women

Delaney RUston, M.D., Screenagers Filmmaker
photo by: Lauri Levenfeld/the Project for women

My obsession with helping families parent around screen time is emotion-laden (this is about our kids so of course, it’s emotional) but also data-driven. 

Before I went to medical school, I was a researcher at the National Institutes of Health. After my medical training I did more research in communications and ethics. I love good data. We need good data. 

That said, we recently conducted a small survey of people from our Screenagers email list and I will be the first to say this is a biased sample. Respondents were not chosen at random but were found through their interest in Screenagers. But, the good thing is we can still glean insights from this data about family rules.  

Prior to the survey, I had ideas on rules based on my experience, interviews with hundreds of kids, teens, and parents and extensive research review. I have come up with 4 rules that I think households should strongly consider implementing. (Even if you have older teens, know that it is never too late). Here they are, and below them, you will find the results of our survey:           


  • No screens in bedrooms when kids and teens go to sleep (for younger kids keep screens out altogether)
  • Setting time goals for studying without multitasking and then taking breaks (my kids study for about 30 minutes and then go on their phones for about 15 minutes)
  • Eating meals together without devices 
  • Establishing time rules for video games

For TTT this week talk with your family (or students) about these rules:

  1. How should we handle screens in the bedroom?
  2. How long do you think you should do focused study without taking a break? 
  3. How should we handle devices during meals?
  4. What are best rules for video game time? 

Survey of Screenagers email list—200 parents responded 

1. Question:  Can devices be in the bedroom?

92% of respondents allow devices in their children’s rooms at night. There is clear data how devices in bedrooms negatively affect sleep.

2. Question: Do you allow your kids to respond to texts, messages, Snapchats while doing homework? 

30% of the respondents allow their kids to respond to texts, messages, Snapchats while doing homework. 

One respondent wrote:

"Yes [they can use computers and phones], but they are both very diligent workers so they usually ignore their phones in order to get the homework done."

Another wrote:

"No devices while doing homework. But as the kids age and need access to information, I imagine this will change."

3. Question: Can you have your device out at meals?

20% of respondents said that they allow devices out during meals.  Here are some of the rules that people shared:

"If devices are brought to the table, they have to be stacked face down and the first person to touch their device has to wash up."
"[We don't] but the husband/father [in our house] does some, claiming he is still working as we eat at 6 PM and he works from home, and he always seems to have an excuse to pull out his iPhone in the 20 minutes we sit down to a meal and it is a sore spot for the wife and kid."
"We make exceptions when a family discussion leads to a question and we look something up on Google, IMDB, etc. (We're a family that also keeps a dictionary and world atlas near the dinner table for the same reason.)"

4. Question: Are there rules around amount of screen time and or type of gaming? 

75% of parents responded that they do not have rules around the amount of time and or type of gaming their kids do.

Here are some examples they shared with us:

"Gaming is only allowed Fridays-Sundays, but no limits on those days. Gaming is in living areas. Games of all ratings are allowed, but M ratings are previewed and any with sexual or drug content are not allowed."
"No midweek gaming unless you have straight As. Unlimited gaming on weekends if you haven't lost the privilege."