Counseling for Screen Time Struggles


In some homes, managing screen time is the source of a lot of stress and tension. It can often be downright toxic. As my friend Laura Kastner, author of Wise Minded Parenting, always asks the parents she works with, “You may be right, but are you effective?”

In SCREENAGERS, we meet Amaryllis, a grandmother of 12-year-old Chris and his 15-year-old sister. Amaryllis is a wonderful woman, and our heart goes out to her as we see her struggle with Chris when she tries to limit his screen time. Chris has big meltdowns leaving his grandma at a loss for what to do. It is obvious she needs coaching and support.

In one of my favorite scenes, we see Amaryllis visit with a professional counselor who helps her understand why having a few consistent boundaries for Chris around screen time is essential for his development and her peace of mind. The counselor gives Amaryllis specific things to try to establish and maintain screen time limits with Chris—and indeed she has much success.

One of the most common concerns I hear about from parents is how they feel stressed around setting screen time limits for video games and also trying to understand if there are other underlying issues that the gaming is masking. The intensity of the struggles, the fights, and the rifts in relationships can be painful.

If you are at your wits' end about screen time issues, seeking the help of a professional coach or counselor can be beneficial. Professionals can provide ideas on how to rethink strategies, which in itself can be valuable. They can help you adapt more effective communication skills, create systems that will work for your family, and teach you tools for maintaining them. Counselors can help you think through whether a behavioral, emotional or learning assessment of your child might be helpful.

You might go with your child, by yourself, or just with your partner. A professional can be an incredible mediator, helping everyone to feel heard which is KEY for starting to reset entrenched patterns.

To find such people, check with your child’s school, talk with your pediatrician or your own doctor. Insurance company websites also list providers. Counselors you seek do not need to have any special training around screen time issues.   

The painful truth is that finding a coach or a counselor can be really hard. Many insurance companies may only cover a very limited list of providers, who may have very long wait lists. Many mental health professionals do not take insurance. This is in part because insurance companies grossly undervalue mental health care and reimburse at a very low rate. If the provider only accepts direct payments, they will give you a bill that you can submit to your insurance—assuming you have insurance.  Hopefully, the insurance will help cover it, but often there is a significant deductible and other barriers. Erggg, so frustrating, I know. In the clinics where I see patients in Seattle, many do not have insurance, many are without jobs, homeless, and other really challenging situations.

Of course, coaching does not only have to come from a professional. Consider reaching out to an insightful friend, a counselor in your religious faith, a support group, and or a trusted relative.

For this TTT, let’s talk about the importance of getting support when you need it. Here are some questions to help get the conversation started:

  • Does managing screen time in your house turn into shouting and slamming doors?

  • Is there a specific issue around screen time in which no one will budge from their perspective on the matter?  

  • Can you recall a person who helped smooth out a misunderstanding between you and a friend when you had an argument—perhaps a teacher? What skills did that person have?

  • There are many influencers and celebrities who talk openly about getting counseling. Do you know of any?

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