How Do You Limit Screen Time for Your Kids?

Updated on July 08, 2018
M.C. asks from Bethlehem, PA
16 answers

Hi All,

I'm new here. I've been struggling with my kids over screen time. They are 7 and 11. Every day is a fight with them over the iPad. I want to get some me-time, but without giving them the tablet. Yesterday I found my daughter hiding under the blanket in her room. She watched stupid videos for 3 hours straight. It's ridiculous!!!

I've tried sending them outside to hang out with friends. I even signed her up for a subscription service that rents us physical educational toys so at least she'll play with her hands and imagination.

Does anyone have recommendations?

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answers from Portland on

My son likes to hide under a blanket too, or he’ll go under his bed, he says it’s more fun. Anyway, you could make them earn the time their allowed to play. They can earn time for the things you expect from them, or to get them to start doing something new. If I need personal time & no screen time has been earned, then I go to the bathroom & chill in there for a bit. I know, not greatest place to hang but works great for me, I know how clean my bathroom is. LOL
It is a hard one to deal with! GOOD LUCK!!!

1 mom found this helpful

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answers from Pittsburgh on

Hard and fast rule in my house: no electronics between breakfast and dinner.

Second hard and fast rule: When I say it's time for breakfast/bedtime (meaning electronics time is over), there is no argument or procrastinating. I will give up to 2 minutes to finish the game they are playing (they have to acknowledge that time's up and ask for the extra 2 minutes), but that's it.

If a person is caught breaking those rules, they lose all electronics time for 24 hours.

It might sound strict, but I find that my kids are better at following the rules (with less whining) when the rules are clearly defined and unambiguous with consequences that are laid out in advance.

8 moms found this helpful


answers from Norfolk on

The only way to do it is to take the iPad away.
When you do hand it to them - start a timer - when it rings - take it away.
Store it someplace where they can't get at it (lock it in a filing cabinet or something like that).
When you take it away - hand each kid a book.
In fact - a rule book for card games will be really useful.
Sending them outside is fine - then it's up to them to figure out what they want to do.
Don't worry so much about you solving for them what they can do.
Friends - great!
Sidewalk chalk - great!
Play cards - great!
Play in a mud puddle - great!
Climb a tree - great!
Read a book - great!

If they complain they are bored (well then they need more practice at this sort of problem solving) you have them vacuum out your car, clean a bathroom, do their laundry or do some other chore.

They have their whole adult lives to sit in front of a screen if they want to.
They are only kids once and it's their time to run, play, ride bikes - do physical things out in fresh air and sunshine.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

Like JB and B say, if there's no screen there's no possibility of screen time! Just take the devices away.

Your "me time" comes from telling them not to bother you from X time to Y time. Just "arrange" things accordingly. Leave acceptable snacks in an accessible location, for example. At 7 and 11 they are old enough to make themselves peanut butter sandwiches, read books, etc etc - plenty of stuff to fill a few hours.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

All electronics at this age should ALWAYS be in the hands of an adult - handed out for specific periods of time when earned, with a timer set to be returned at a certain time. Why is it a fight? You are the parent, they are the child. You have the ability to remain calm and not engage in a battle of wills, they don't. You have the power not to yell and shame and stamp your feet when angry, they likely do not.

Needing "me-time" really isn't an excuse. I had 6 kids and we basically have had no screen time for YEARS, no video games, extremely limited TV time, no Ipads and no tablets. Somehow, I still managed. What in the world did people do BEFORE all these things were available?

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

Welcome to mamapedia, M..

Do you tell your child NO? That's a start. YOU are the parent.
If you have to lock up the iPad and put parental codes on electronic devices?Then do it.

Be the parent and parent your children. Don't worry about being their friend right now. Be their parent.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

I find that if I want to limit screen time, I physically take possession of the device. During the school year, my kids aren't allowed to play video games during the week, so I take the controllers away on Sunday night and give them back on Friday if they've been reasonably good during the week. During the summer, because they're old enough to stay home, I leave them with a few chores to do and if they're not done by the time I get home from work, I take the controllers and change the wi-fi password for the following day. When they were younger and had an iPad, it stayed with me unless it was during the time that I allowed them to use it. I routinely take my 14-year-old son's phone away for a variety of reasons. My 12-year-old doesn't have a phone but he has a chromebook and I take that too if needed.

It's your house, you're the adult, and the devices are used when and for how long you say. Come up with some ground rules with the kids, put them in writing, and have the kids sign it so that they understand. When time is up, time is up. If they whine or sneak, that's the loss of future screen time. Outside of allotted screen time, if they're bored, too bad. After enough days of being bored, they'll figure out that they need to find something else to do.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

I just say "Enough" and they know to go find something else to do. It's no different than when my mom used to kick us off the TV when we were growing up. It's boredom. My mom would say Go find something else to do and we'd scram. My kids do the same.

If I get really annoyed - I have a table in our main entrance area. Electronic devices go there (everyone's) for the morning, afternoon, or evening - and we just take the time off and have family time. We used to do that a lot when they were first learning how to monitor their time on them (in the beginning). They couldn't. I got tired of walking around seeing tops of heads (looking down at their screens). I was not going to waste my time timing how long everyone was on their things. So that's how I handled it. Everyone got off them, and my kids actually played together.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

It's time to make this a no-struggle issue. The devices belong to you and are in your possession until you decide they can have some screen time. You tell them how long they get and the devices are handed over at that time. With my boys, if there were any issues with griping, back talk, arguing, or anything like sneaking around, there would be an extended time without the devices at all. If the devices are not right there for them to use and fight over, then they will find other things to do after they get over the initial "withdrawal". Don't feel bad at all if they are denied. Kids will always find something to do and entertain themselves with once they ditch the attitude.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

this has got to be one of the most difficult and recurring problems for modern parents. my boys are both gamers (both adults now) and i don't envy you trying to walk this tightrope.

your kids aren't tiny, so i'd involve them in this decision. sit them down (preferably with their dad too) and have a conversation about screens, their advantages and their detriments, and your concerns about them. don't dictate- make sure they are getting a say too.

and ask them to help you create the family parameters. be willing to abide by them too.

kids are much more cooperative when they get to participate in the decision making process, and far more understanding of the reasoning behind it when they're not just ordered to comply.


3 moms found this helpful


answers from Erie on

In the summer, my kids have to do a chore for screen time. Clean the bathroom? 2 hours. Sweep the stairs? 1 hour. Give me a hard time about it? No screen time for 24 hours. I take the tv/gaming controls to prevent it. This worked until about 14/16yo. After that they still have chores but have learned to limit their screen time on their own, so I haven't needed to connect the two. But they still can't argue with me about chores.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

I didn't. I kept them fairly active. During the summer I took them to the pool several times a week and they usually had friends over to play. As long as they got their schoolwork and exercise I didn't try to micromanage their downtime. If they wanted to spend a whole afternoon playing video games or watching TV I didn't mind. I did the same thing as a kid.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

The deal breaker for me would be that they are defying you and hiding it, which is a version of lying. I would say to them that they are engaging in immature responses to rules and parental authority, and therefore have proven themselves untrustworthy with an expensive piece of equipment. If you allow this level of arguing, you will never get control when the 11 year old hits 13 and 14 and really starts pushing your buttons. I totally get that you need some "me time" and it's so tempting to grab whatever is available.

You have to stop the fighting. Read the responses below - JB's practice of changing the password is excellent. The mindset that will help you is that they are not "entitled" to electronics, passwords, or even "educational games." It can also be provided when laundry is done/folded/put away, the dishes are in the dishwasher, and the groceries are put away. Both kids are capable of doing these chores.

Also, re-think (and read up on) the value of boredom in kids. It's something we avoid as if it makes us bad parents, like they have to be occupied all the time. But that down time with nothing scheduled is a beneficial thing, good for creativity, and calm-inducing after they quit fussing about it. They can, and should, learn to entertain themselves. They can also learn to knock on a friend's door, practice being polite to the friend's parents, and find things to do together. Invest in simple things like a deck of cards, a few real board games that kids of different ages can play together (or with you - family game nights are awesome!) and a standard book like Hoyle's Rules of Games.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

My son LOVED TV. I mean loved it! He would have watched all day every day if I’d let him. I instituted TV Tickets. They each got 4 per day. Each was worth 30 minutes of screen time - TV, computer, DS, whatever.
They could trade them in unused at the end of the day for 25 cents or they could turn them in and use them. If brother is watching and sister sits down, too, sister turns in a ticket...
worked like a charm!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

I think you have the right idea by trying to help them develop and pursue other interests. Do they like the toys you purchased? I had no interest in being the screen police, so our strategy was to focus on supporting our children’s interests. We had board games, art supplies, sports equipment, musical instruments, helped them to invite their friends over, and took lots of trips to pools, parks, museums. I know it is hard to trust that kids can self regulate their screen time, but they can. Our kids spent some days mostly in front of screens, other days not at all. Occasionally I might say, “I”m starting to feel like you’ve spent a lot of time playing that game or watching tv, do you think you might want to do something else now?”, but I always left it up to them. Think of it as helping them learn to make good choices for themselves. We didn’t have any screens in their bedrooms, explaining how they interfere with good sleep, but other than that, we had no limits. When they were young they needed more involvement from us with various activities, such as outings and playing games together, and we always (still, and they are mostly grown), had lots of conversations about their interests and activities. Yours are still young enough, that they really appreciate your attention and interest, and some investment there should pay off in some “me time” for you, although I would also think that if the only way for you to have that down time is to not worry if they use theirs in front of a screen, that is fine. Kids are sometimes learning a lot with the things they do with screens. Two of my kids spent a few years making increasingly complicated movies, complete with animation and special effects. I also think they learned some good reasoning skills from some of the games. Try to stay away from making screen time “forbidden fruit”. There are good things about screens, and not so good things about them. Help your kids learn the difference. This approach also serves to make lying completely unnecessary.



answers from Miami on

Honestly, if it were me, I would put them away for a month.

You need to establish some strict boundaries, and even if you are trying right now, you aren't succeeding, so time for a real change.

They need to be doing physical activities and reading books. Library, museum, playground, swimming pool. Summer bridge activities to keep up their learning during the summer should not include the computer. Now is a good time to work on math, and learning the states and their capitals for your older child if it will be on the curriculum this coming year. (I taught that to my kids as well as their multiplication tables during the summer. Sure made life easier during the school year for them!!!) And I taught it to them in a fun way.

We went out of the house every single day. The TV was not a big part of our life.

It will be a struggle for you and them for at least a week, but if they cannot find the ipads and cannot get onto the computer, and if you are super strict about the TV, they will finally get used to it. I hope you will consider this.

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