Parenting Tip: Reducing Screen Time for Your Family

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While our primary mission here at is to promote growth through discussion of important and meaningful issues, sometimes we think it is worth sharing another type of conversation. When the right kind of advice comes our way, we choose to share it. This tip aims to help promote conversation by helping your family create circumstances that make more quality time together possible.

The growth of technology, and of the many screens that we encounter in our daily lives, has led to a difficult situation for many families. Children, and teens especially, can often seem distant – spending hours playing games, interacting with social media, sending texts, and participating in other digital activities that cut them off from the real world. This can be a distraction from schoolwork, family time, and the people in the world around them.

While technology is great for so many things, the question remains: how do we set boundaries for our children and ourselves?

According to a recent New York Times article, the solution to encouraging kids to sever themselves from their screens from time to time begins with us as parents. According to experts, the way children interact with their devices is, like so many other behaviors, based partially on a reaction to what they see their parents do. When we constantly react to every text, email, and ping from our cell phones and devices – children see this and follow suit. Parents who spend half of their day glued to electronic devices are much more likely to produce children who do the same.

One girl interviewed by Catherine Steiner-Adair, a Harvard-affiliated psychologist researching this phenomena, said, “I feel like I’m just boring. I’m boring my dad because he will take any text, any call, any time, even on the ski lift.” The young girl called her father’s smartphone a “stupid phone.”

Steiner-Adair and other experts agree that setting boundaries for children starts with setting boundaries for ourselves, and sticking to them. Critical times for family interaction, like the dinner table, family discussion time, and trips to pick up or drop off children should be cellphone-free times – for everyone. No bluetooth in the car and no checking the phone at the table. By showing children that we respect family time, and that there are things more important than being constantly connected, we set a positive example. According to these experts it is “never too late” to correct behaviors, even if you feel your children are already deep into a pattern of bad behavior when it comes to their screens.

Other simple steps parents can take include not giving young children their own cell phones, and not having televisions in the bedrooms of children and teens. Establish “device-free” times of day and make efforts to fill this space with conversation or activity, so it doesn’t feel like a punishment, but rather a choice to enjoy more time engaging with each other.

The most promising message from the article is that there is hope for all of us, and that reducing time on devices is one step we can take that will benefit every member of the family, as well as the family as a unit. Set good examples for your children and show them how to behave, rather than simply tell them. This goes for technology, as well as a wide range of other behaviors.

For another example of how you can teach by doing, and expand on this principle, see our article “Teaching Happiness Through Role Modeling.”

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