Creating Screen Time Structure in Your House

Creating screen time house rules

If you want to prevent screens from taking over your house or take back your house from screens, you can start with creating some household rules. Here are some things to consider as you get started:

3 Things to Consider When Creating Your Household Structure

1. Not all screen time is equal.

There can be great benefits to being on screens, depending on how you are spending your time. Are you investing your time, or just killing it? For example, we have to consider what they are watching. When they are consuming content that delivers poor lessons, is fast-paced editing, complex and/or over stimulating, it can have negative effects on your child.

However, there can be positive ways to invest your screen time. For example, if your child loves gaming, there are apps where they can learn how to create their own video game. You can FaceTime with friends, learn how to draw or design, create art, learn basic programming, and learn other helpful skills. So when we think about the time we spend on screens, we also need to consider the quality of the content.

2. Creating Screen Time Structure is NOT a Punishment

It is important for you to let your child (and everyone in your household) know that creating this structure is NOT a punishment. You want them to know that you the structure is to help keep them physically and emotionally healthy, as well as keeping a healthy family dynamic.

3. It’s Easier to Let Out Than to Pull In

If your child is older, understand that there will most likely be some pushback on creating this screen time structure within your house. If possible, create the structure right as your child starts using screens. However, you can still “pull in the reigns” of screen time when it gets out of hand. The key is for them to understand why — review with them the screen time dangers to their mental and physical health. Screen time is NOT a right; it is a privilege, and can be taken away. Most importantly, hold strong and be consistent.

Creating Your Household Screen Time Structure

Step 1 – Get Buy-in

How do you get your family to buy in to having the new household screen time structure? Come from a place of being sincere and caring about them individually and as a family. You can reference the information about screen time, mental health, and cyber predators, which I mention in my presentation. When discussing family health, emphasize the importance of having a strong family connection. In order to have a strong family connection, communication is essential. However, if everyone is on their individual screens at home, the communication is significantly limited.

Now that you have explained why it is important to have a screen time structure, the next step is to create it!

Step 2 – Suggestions for Creating Your Structure

These are just some suggestions for when setting your household screen time structure. These might vary depending on your child’s age. You might want to add or change any of these suggestions to fit your house. Note: It’s important to get input from your child, but understand you are the parent and have final word.

Determine Your House’s Screen Free Time

  1. No screens during meals or snacks
  2. When a parent says it’s family time, screens are turned off
  3. Specific screen-free times during the day
  4. Dedicated screen-free days or weekends
  5. Screens placed in central charging location (NOT the bedroom), 1 hour before bed
  6. Screens away when friends are over
  7. No screens behind closed doors
  8. Parents need to lead by example with a few exceptions.

Setting Screen Times and Limits

  1. How much screen time to allow per day? It’s recommended for younger (elementary school level) to have less than 1 hour of screen time. For those in middle and high school, the recommendation is less than 2 hours per day. However — remember, not all time spent on screens is equal.
  2. What times during the day are screens allowed? Morning before school? Afternoon after school? Evening before bed? Remember that light from screens can interfere with circadian rhythm and your children’s sleeping patterns. It’s recommended to turn screens off at least 1 hour before bedtime.
  3. How are you going to monitor and/or limit time spent on screens? There are several apps and resources available to monitor and limit time spent on devices. See our recommended screen time apps here.

Consequences of Violating the Agreement

If your child is violating the screen time agreement, the privilege of having a device can be taken away and they will have to EARN it back. How can they earn it back? There are multiple options, depending on your parenting style and your child’s learning style. It can be specific, like a chore or activity, or through several chores through a point system. Once they earn enough points, they can get the device back.

Common argument from child when taking phone:

Child: But it’s my phone, I bought it!

Parent: I signed the contract for the phone. I pay for the plan; it’s mine.

Using Screen Time as a Reward

When your child does something great or is showing good behavior, you can give them extra screen time as a reward. If you are using a point system and assign points to chores/activities, then your child can learn the importance of working towards a reward.

Parent to Child Cell Phone Agreement

A great way to be transparent with your expectations is through a parent-child cell phone contract. I’ve created a sample one for you that you can download and fill in the details.