How Family Values Matter with Screen Time Limits

“My 7-year-old loves Call of Duty and we play it together.”


“I think video games are rotting kids’ brains, so I don’t let allow any video games in our house.”


“I let my kids have free access to their phones and the computer. They need to learn to use technology and they seem to be learning from it.”


“My kids are allowed screen time for only 30 minutes per day, I don’t think it’s good for them”


These are some of the many perspectives I hear from the parents I serve as a clinical child psychologist. Some parents allow their children free rein when it comes to technologies, setting virtually no limits. Others cringe at the thought of their kids looking at a screen. While there is no “one size fits all” approach, I think that 21st century kids need to have a relationship with screen-based technologies to accelerate their education, prepare them for future vocations, and communicate and share experiences with their peers. But even though I disagree with parents who (try to) wholly restrict tech from kids, family values matter with screen time limits.

The educational and psychological adjustment of 21st century children requires some balance of screen time with their other activities. But simply reducing screen time does not account for differences in kids’ needs or family situations. There are many approaches to screen time that fall between total prohibition and unrestricted access. I encourage parents to find an approach that suits their own sensibilities. Listen to your heart and mind, tune into how your kids respond to their screen time, and see what works for you.

If your family likes to be outdoors and values spending time in nature as an opportunity for learning, you might want to set stricter limits on a child who is regularly drawn to the screen. Conversely, if you are tech-friendly family who bonds over Netflix and video games, you might find great value in developing 21st-century technology skills and allow your kids more access to screens.

It is very important that parents feel comfortable with screen time activities and content. If you see that the majority of your child’s screen time involves interacting with their friends from school, it becomes easier to see how screens can facilitate friendships. Conversely, you might feel uneasy if your child primarily plays single-player games or MMOs in which they have only cyber friends. Content is also important. Kids who spent all of their time playing first person shooters (FPS) are getting a very different experience than those whose screen time incorporates social media, creating web content and videos, or developing programming skills. Parents should observe whether children’s screen time is passive or interactive. Many children now spend much of their screen time watching others play games rather than playing them themselves. Based upon the majority of research on television, this type of screen time is not as instructive or beneficial as the more engaging and interactive nature of playing video games and mastering apps.

While I strongly encourage you to use your own experience and sensibilities in effective limits or expectations for your children’s screen time, there are some clear recommendations that can be made.

Do not totally restrict access. Just because you didn’t play video games or use computers when you were growing up doesn’t necessarily mean that it is bad for your children. Especially in the 21st-century world, kids will at the very least need to have digital literacy skills to navigate their world. But beyond that, access to digital media facilitates communication with peers, shared knowledge and interests, and incredible opportunities to learn.

Don’t be hands-off. Even if you have children who do not need any limit setting with their screen time because they are actively involved in a variety of other activities, it still is helpful to talk about finding a balance of play and work activities in one’s life. Complimenting children on their decision making can be helpful even for children who use technology on an occasional basis.

Play games with your child. The best way to learn about what you kids are doing is to demonstrate an interest in their activities. Playing with children, particularly for those who tend to overdo it, could at least open their minds to hearing your opinion. Check out this article and try to find technology that you can enjoy with your family, even if you don’t really like video games and social media.

Practice what you preach. Modeling is far more powerful than telling kids what to do. By demonstrating a well-balanced play and work diet, you could help kids to moderate their screen time and to include other positive activities in their life. This can be far more powerful than simply lecturing them about what they should do.



Featured image: Flickr user Pat Castaldo

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