How to Limit Screen Time – Why, How To, and What Now

Screen time is a parenting topic I have carefully avoided. I guess it’s because as a person I love TV shows (Netflix binge anyone?), I need the computer to work and once upon a time I was pretty good at video games. As a parent though, I have an entirely different perspective.

The screens have a tendency to be a place of tension and uneasy feelings for me. I find myself second guessing the decisions I’ve made, feeling bad after a screen time period has run longer than I expected and getting snappy about anything with a screen.

Screen time should be fun! I don’t want it to be a constant battle.

Screen time doesn't have to be a constant battle. This simple guide will help with limiting screen time & what to do when screen time is over for the day.

We will never be a no screen time family. I can see the benefits of getting rid of it all together but for us, I think a limited schedule works.

Once the screen time rules are in place, I can relax and screen time becomes so much more fun for everyone!

How to Limit Screen Time – Why, How To, and What Now

The Benefits of Limited Screen Time for Kids

  • When the screens go off the chance to create is available. With my own kids I find that once the option of screen time has been eliminated they have no problem finding something creative, fun and hands on to do.
  • Limiting screen time makes it easier to monitor what your kids are actually watching and playing.
  • When it’s limited, screen time becomes an effective aid. If I need to make a phone call or take a shower (hee hee) I know that they will sit still and watch. That probably wouldn’t be true if it was on all day.
  • Chatting, connecting and really listening is so much easier with no back ground noise.

Setting up a Screen Time for Kids Schedule

  • Figure out which screens you will include. At our house screen time covers TV, video games, and computer time.
  • Reach an agreement before you make a rule. With your spouse… not with the kids. 😉  Even if you don’t have exactly the same ideas for how much screen time is appropriate, finding a middle ground will help make the transition easier on everyone.
  • Be consistent but not rigid. There will be days that the TV will stay on too long or a  new video game will make stopping so hard. Once you’ve been limiting screen time for a while having “treat” days won’t be too big of a deal. Just make sure to get back into the set routine as quickly as possible.
  • Use a system like KoalaSafe (a parental control router) to monitor what your kids are spending their screen time doing. KoalaSafe is a box that creates a new WIFI network at home for kids. Your phone then becomes the controls panel for your kids network, enabling time and content control, as well as surfacing usage analytics data. (affiliate link)

What to do Now That the Screen is Off

  • Remember that screen time is at best a habit and at worst an addiction. When you first start limiting screen time, you will probably find yourself in the middle of a few battles. Be patient and try to understand where your kids are coming from.
  • What to do? Ah, so glad you asked. 🙂 Play dress up, read some books or get moving.
  • Do nothing. Once the option is taken away… wait and see what fun things the kids come up with on their own.

 Do you limit screen time? What tips and tricks can you share? Let me know how it goes if you try something new!

I re-posted this post on how to limit screen time for kids because I needed to read it. (It originally appeared October 20, 2012).


  1. I have found the same thing happens with my boys … when the tv/ipad goes on, everything else stops. I try to find a balance so the boys can enjoy some screen time but are also out and about creating and doing things themselves without any screens. Great post. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I struggled with this, too. Before I had my son the TV was an addiction for me. There were so many shows that I just couldn’t miss. I didn’t want this addiction to transfer to him, so I was VERY hesitant to let him watch any. He’s two now and for the most part he only watches a show when I’m drying my hair or during a very long car ride. There are only a few shows he enjoys and they are mostly for the songs that are sung on the show. Limiting screen time is what I’ve learned to do for both of us and it seems to be working out nicely!

    1. I really think seeing that from such a young age will help us both as they get older. We won’t so much have to “take away” the screen time because they will have been used to the limited amount from the beginning!

  3. My oldest son is autistic, and when he’s home from school, he wants to do nothing but go from the Wii, to the computer, to the iPod. It’s his way of decompressing from the day. I find it hard, though, because I allow much more screen time for him than I do my other kids. They know how to “play” where my oldest just doesn’t. When we are off from school, though, I HAVE to put my foot down or he’d be plugged in for 12 hours straight. No joke. So I implemented “no electronics” times throughout the day in one hour increments. Amazingly, it worked so well! As long as he knew there was a set time to begin and end, he was happy. I made a list of things for him to do while the electronics were off and he happily worked from that. I really need to institute something like that all the time, not just during vacations! 🙂

    1. I love the way you explained your older son’s need for it. It sounds like you have an excellent system that works for your family. Thanks for sharing!

  4. My daughter is allowed one show in the morning when she wakes up (no earlier than 7am) and another after lunch. Since she knows these are her two and only two chances to watch, she never asks outside of these times. So, t.v. is not a problem at all. Now, the thing we have to be mindful of is games on my phone. She often plays these (all educational) while I shower and get dressed for the day. Since they have proven helpful with her math, sight reading, and spelling skills, I don’t feel too bad about it. But, since it is mobile, and we don’t have a set rule about when it’s available, she asks to play on my phone every once in a while. But, she also does well with turning it off when I ask her to and is okay when I tell her “not right now”. She knows that if she gets ugly about it, she will lose the privilege, so she obliges! 🙂

  5. My 7-year old son and I have worked out a system of earning 20-30 min screen time rewards (he sets the timer, max 1-2 hrs/day) by folding laundry, reading, doing math problems, engaging little sister in a game, and other productive things. The idea is to change it up with diverse activities, help the family, and learn. During the school year, I did feel like some down time with my kindle was a way for him to decompress after cramming his head with rote memorization, drills, lots of books (don’t get me wrong, I love books!) and worksheets.
    Before we tried this approach, however, I actually had to eliminate all screen time for a week, because his interest was approaching addiction. The Bearnstain Bears’ book, “Too Much TV” was my inspiration. We both had to relearn how to function without screens (it was challenging, but wonderful!). I highly recommend doing this every once in a while. Unplugging is very refreshing, even if just for a few days.
    Although he still asks me often to use the device, at least he knows what’s expected. For us, this has helped with entitlement issues, setting clear boundaries, trying lots of different activities, and teaching responsibility. It does take a little effort at first, but the benefits are real.

  6. I allow my two sons “to choose” when they have screen time. They are allowed three hours of screen time on “stay home days”, Fri-Mon, and 30 min on Tu-Th, which includes video games, computer, iPad, and TV.

    On stay home days I give my sons, ages 4 & 5, six puffs to use when and how they would like during the day. Each puff is worth 30 minutes of screen time. This has helped them to balance their time and to make choices. Once the puffs are gone, that’s the end…no more until the next day. And on Fridays we watch a movie, so if they want to watch a movie, they need to save two puffs, otherwise, no movie night. (I know, a movie is 3-4 puffs, but I’m not heartless-ha).

  7. I am just curious what your limits for screen time are. How much time do you allow them to spend a day? We limit it too, but I would love to know what other Moms time allotments are, so I can gauge if we are too strict or too lax.:)

  8. I just wanted to speak up to represent all the moms who don’t want to advertise how long they really let their kids stare at a screen every day… My three year old typically watches 2-3 hours a day on the ipad. On a good day he is busy doing other stuff and just gets 30 minutes of veg time in front of the TV in early evening so he can chill out and I can get dinner ready, but on a bad day I shamelessly rely on the electronic babysitter.

    I try to default to no screen and first suggest he play with his many, many toys or his newly mobile little brother, but our life is imperfect and frankly I find it hard to balance accommodating his very demanding personality with the needs of the 1 year old, the running of the household, and the very demanding work from home job I hold.

    Here is how I justify it to myself: 1) I only let him watch shows I consider educational, so it’s usually the PBS or Nick Jr app; 2) I have a lot of interactive, fun and educational non-video apps on the iPad, so it’s easy to guide him to one of those (which I feel is a much more productive use of screen time); and 3) he’s a very social, articulate and physically active little boy doing well in part-time preschool. If he were lagging developmentally I would certainly turn my sights on the e-nanny, but for now it’s my best asset in the game of keeping everyone alive and happy!

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