Screen Overload: 5 New Family Rules

SCREEN OVERLOAD: 5 New Family RulesI have a love-hate relationship with my screens. I know how important it is to get unplugged, and I enjoy many outdoor, non-tech activities, yet I love texting with my kids who are away at college, reading news and seeing pictures on social media, perusing Pinterest, and writing, all of which happen on screens. My husband is also wired in and checks his phone regularly for communication and information. Unfortunately, our apples have not fallen far from their parental trees.

After spending the summer joyfully unplugged at camp and not missing technology at all, we have quickly plugged ourselves right back in to our various devices.

I know I’m not the only parent who struggles with enforcing screen limits. This week, after re-reading the research and reminding myself how important it is for all of us to get unplugged, I’m recommitted to figuring out appropriate screen limits. I was hoping to find something in the research that said it was okay for a kid to watch football on TV for a few hours, play games on an iPad for a few more, and check Fantasy Football and Instagram several times. But, alas, all the research still recommends that kids (including teenagers) have no more than two hours of screen time (including TV, computers, phones, tablets) per day. And the research doesn’t say anything about weekend days being exceptions. Yikes. Our weekends have been screen overload bonanzas, and we’ve all spent way more than two hours glued to our screens.

Last weekend, as I assessed the way-too-many hours we all spent on screens, I was about ready to toss out anything in our house that started with an “i.” I fantasized about the days before technology when families gathered around the radio together to listen to story hour and then spent time chatting, playing games, and happily interacting with one another face to face.

At our family meeting at dinner on Sunday, there was not much enthusiasm for discussing appropriate screen limits. When I asked my kids how much time they thought would be appropriate, there was total silence. They didn’t want to contribute to the discussion or suggest a time limit, because what they want is unlimited screen time, which is what they perceive “all” their friends have. Due to my lazy parenting of late, the enforcement of our current rule (2 hours on weekend days) has been lacking, so of course no one was going to volunteer a number of suggested hours, because they preferred my lazy non-enforcement. Last weekend, most of the time we weren’t out at soccer games or eating meals was spent looking at a device of some kind. I was getting work done while the boys were either watching TV or playing games on their iPads.  It was so easy and peaceful with everyone happily plugged in.

Our kids are not going to limit their own screen time, so it’s up to us parents to figure this out and get a handle on what is the appropriate amount of time for everyone to be on these devices and how we can enforce the time limit. My family’s media life has been further complicated because now their school requires them to bring a device (laptop or iPad) to school every day. It used to be simple to allow 30 minutes of tech play time after school, but now they may be past the recommended daily limit before the final school bell rings. This post really got me thinking about technology use in school. I wonder if educators should be so gung-ho about incorporating technology in every subject when clearly there are still benefits to using real books, paper and pencils.

Here’s what the research says: Kids who spend more than two hours per day in front of a screen are at a higher risk for obesity, anxiety, depression, behavioral and academic problems, and irregular sleep. And, because of all that screen time, they have less play time and are not as good at reading people’s emotions, both of which negatively impact social skill development. That’s enough to motivate me to figure out this screen limit conundrum, so although it will be unpopular around here (like most of my ideas), these will be the technology guidelines presented at our next family meeting:

1. All devices are used and charged in public places at home (not bedrooms) and shut down at least one hour before bedtime.

2. At-home tech use will be limited to 30 minutes on week days, 2 hours on weekends. The weekend hours will include any TV time. If you’re using your iPad while watching TV, you get charged double screen time (it’s a pet peeve of mine, so I made it a rule). Keeping track of time is your own responsibility, and you lose screen time for not keeping track or going over.

3. If you want to get an extra hour of screen time, read a book for an hour.

4. All school work gets finished before screen time.

5. If you respond with a crabby attitude when I tell you to put your device away, you lose 30 minutes of your next day’s screen time.

There you have it. Our new family rules. I’m going to try them. I’ll let you know how our new rules go!


Need to be more convinced about how important it is to unplug?  Here are some resources for you:

Way Too Much of a Good Thing (Sunshine Parenting)

From the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics): “For decades the AAP has warned that children need to cut back on their screen time. The group’s latest prescription: Entertainment “screen time” should be limited to two hours a day for children ages 3-18. And, for 2-year-olds and younger, none at all.

From the National Institutes of Health:
“To decrease screen time:

  • Remove the TV or computer from your child’s bedroom.
  • Do not allow TV watching during meals or homework.
  • Do not let your child eat while watching TV or using the computer.
  • Do not leave the TV on for background noise. Turn on the radio instead, or have no background noise.
  • Decide which programs to watch ahead of time. Turn off the TV when those programs are over.
  • Suggest other activities, such as family board games, puzzles, or going for a walk.
  • Keep a record of how much time is spent in front of a screen. Try to spend the same amount of time being active.
  • Be a good role model as a parent. Decrease your own screen time to 2 hours a day.
  • If it is hard not having the TV on, try using a sleep function so it turns off automatically.
  • Challenge your family to go 1 week without watching TV or doing other screen-time activities. Find things to do with your time that get you moving and burning energy.”

Screen Time and Children (National Institutes of Health)

Kids and Screen Time: What does the research Say? (NPR)

Media & Children (American Academy of Pediatrics)

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Learn more about how screen time affects your children at Mom Loves Best:

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