How to model good screen time limits

Kids aren’t the only ones glued to their screens. Parents get sucked into the little glowing light too.

Not one, but two studies, found something that I found surprising: the majority of parents believe they are good media-use role models for their kids. The American Psychological Association’s 2017 Stress in America survey found that 72% of parents somewhat or strongly agree that they model a healthy relationship with technology for their children. The other study was a 2016 Common Sense Media survey of 1,796 parents, which found that the large majority of parents (78%) believe they model good media habits for their kids.

Do our kids think we are good role models? When I ask audiences of students if they think their parents are on their devices too much, generally two-thirds of the kids raise their hands. The Common Sense Media survey above supports this point in that parents of tweens and teens report spending on average more than 6.5 hours a day on screens each day doing things like watching tv, social networking, browsing the internet, and video gaming.  

When we say, “we want to model better,” it is like saying, “I am going to eat better,” a goal which is rarely attainable because it is too vague. A well-known fact about behavior change is that choosing a clearly definable goal, and setting things up for success around it, increases the chance for change that is noticeable and sustainable. Screen time allows us to model behavior change. My suggestion is to pick one thing you want to change about screen time use and share that with your kids or students.

Here are some examples of behavior changes with tech, starting with my own:

  • “I am going to try not to go back on screens after dinner on Tuesdays and instead treat myself to creative and relaxing time, such as making earrings and being more available to the family.” This is indeed my own behavior change I have been doing for many months. My teens know I am working to do this, and when I fail, I tell them. I want to be accountable and knowing I will be telling them gives me extra motivation not to fail.
  • “After checking my email, my goal is to turn off the Wifi on my computer for 1 hour each weekday morning so I can get my writing done and not be tempted to check my email.”
  • “I am going to try to resist checking my phone when we are setting up for dinner and at the table so I get to talk with my family in a more connected way.”

For this TTT, start a conversation about everyone in the family’s habits around technology. Here are some questions to get you started.

  • Do you (kids) think we (parents) are good role models when it comes to screen time?
  • If they respond no, that they think you are on too much, why do they think that? Are there things they think you should be doing that you are not? Like spending more time with them? Exercising more? etc.
  • If they say yes, you are a good role model, then ask why. What makes a good role model?
  • Can you share a goal with your children or students that you have around screen time use? And, then commit to checking in on the goal (being accountable) in the near future, such as at next week’s TTT? Remember it is just as important that you check in if you “fail” than if you succeed because the message is that behavior change is hard, particularly concerning the constant enticement of screen time. The important thing is that you say how you are learning from your failures, such as modifying the goal or setting up reminders, etc.