Screens & Things

July 13, 2021

We told the kids a week or so ago that we would be taking the month off of iPads. This was prompted by a display of bad behavior from one kid in particular (ie, hitting / throwing things at others, not being able to call down or act like a normal person after a session of video games).

They were not thrilled, but thankfully seemed to take it as something non-negotiable.

During the pandemic, we got into the habit of letting them play for some time in the afternoon. “Some time” sometimes turned into 4 hours, which I know is . . . not great. (Genevieve never wanted to play that long, which is good. She’d typically drift off to play around the 1-2 hour mark. But neither A nor C even touched an iPad when they were her age!).

Their iPad time served us.

Which is okay.

And entirely reasonable.

I know the current parenting gospel is that nothing you do that makes your lives easier is really important or worth doing. We should be presenting kids with multiple educational and analog options, right? Science experiments or read-alouds or Pinteresty craft setups? OR galavanting through nature (never mind that currently it is inhospitable in the afternoons unless one in the pool — and that’s only possible ~50% of the time due to intermittent storms).


The kids are getting older, we could see the impact on behavior, the pandemic is (sort of) waning, and it was just time to change our habits.

Current policies:

No iPad on the weekends unless Josh is on call (and even then, will set timer of 2 hrs and stick to it) or we are on vacation

No iPad on the weekdays ever (unless vacation or there is a hurricane and we are truly stuck inside for hours) – this was thankfully always a rule

TV time in the evenings only after 30 minutes of reading and toys are cleared up. Subject to go off immediately if people are not being nice to each other

TV OFF by 7:45 pm

(My personal policy: aiming for under 100 minutes of phone screen time every day! This continues to be the magic number for me. EVERYTHING ELSE is better when I stick to this.)

We had a great weekend this past weekend. I don’t think it was a coincidence. It was somewhat more work for us but the behavior shift was worth it. I know some do not feel like screen negative impact their family lives, and that’s wonderful. But for us, screen overdose impacted behavior — 1 kid more than others, but definitely all 3 to some extent. And I’d rather them do other things. Obviously these policies are subject to change — when we have tweens/teens I’m sure another policy will be appropriate. But for now, this is what we are going with.

Lest you think they are poring over some academic volume, I will admit they are looking at a toy catalog. Ha!

Bedtime report:

I tried eating with the kids a bit later, closing the kitchen, and a hard “go upstairs” stop @ 7:45. It was a relatively successful night, with little kids in bed @ 8:30 (Annabel was up playing with rainbow looms but she was contained/quiet so I was fine with that)! Will continue to report back.


  • Reply Rachael July 13, 2021 at 6:12 am

    We did the same around Memorial Day! My almost five year old is OBSESSED w screens and basically came out of the womb that way🤣(his younger brother is the complete opposite and couldn’t care less about watching anything!) His screen time has gradually increased over time thanks to work pressure, covid, etc and we were really seeing it affect him. We went cold turkey and REALLY saw positive results – hard for the first few days but then he got used to it. We let him have the iPad on a trip this weekend w a 4 hr drive and we’re already seeing the negative effects again- SO emotional and whiny for it. So we’re right there with you!

  • Reply Gillian July 13, 2021 at 6:53 am

    I have alarms on my phone marking the end of our weekend afternoon screen time. That way it isn’t me ending screen time, it is just over because the timer went off. They are (mostly) good about getting off when the time is up. I have also ended screen time early for bad behavior.

    Our bedttime routine which has been in place for years, is that the kids have showers etc BEFORE dinner. Then we eat late (6:45 typically) then we head up to read to the younger kids at 7:30 and they are lights out by 8. The biggest reason we did this was so we could eat as a family more often, but I do think having our au pair get the kids ready for bed before dinner has made the evening smoother. Plus it is lovely to see their clean little faces at the table upon arriving home from work (It reminds me of Mary Poppins–“It’s 6:03 and the heirs to my dominion are scrubbed and tubbed…”). My teen and preteen have different rules (and bedttimes, obviously). But the 7:30 pm hard stop is so necessary for my exhausted, early rising 8 and 5 yos.

    • Reply nicoleandmaggie July 13, 2021 at 10:39 am

      We go through SO MANY timers. They usually use kitchen timers, not just for screen time but also for piano and violin practicing.

      • Reply Gillian July 14, 2021 at 7:05 am

        Oh we use a lot of timers, but we use them because they seem to work.

  • Reply Sophie July 13, 2021 at 7:45 am

    Glad your weekend was nice, bedtime going better and new screen time rules going well. I definitely notice a dose relationship with screen time and bad behaviour with my 4 year old – 1 hour per day and she’s fine, more than 2 (especially if it’s iPad!) and she becomes grumpy, rude, and obsessed with the screen. I also noticed that any content that is addictive (like YouTube or video games) is much more likely to be problematic than an episode of something on the TV. So we’ve learnt to keep it to 1 hour TV on weekday evenings, maybe 2-3 hours of a mix of TV and iPad on weekend days including a movie with the family. But I totally agree sometimes we use extra screen time as a way to keep our sanity as parents and I do think that’s ok too, as long as it doesn’t become the norm it ends up just being an extra treat for her.

  • Reply A. July 13, 2021 at 8:02 am

    If we, adults, control our screen time, it is pretty normal to control/manage kid’s screen time… If we feel dizzy after scrolling IG for 30 minutes, they will feel sick after hours of screen… My 5 yo still doesn’t know ipad/games exist (!!). He plays Lego, draws, bike, soccer, etc. and yes, sometimes he tells us he is BORED… But he doesn’t ask for more screen time, because it is not an option in his mind. It is max 1h screen on a laptop, 2x30min during mealtime, and during weekends, we had 20min audio books with images (good for rest time omg, he is so calm while listening). That’s it. Limiting screen is also important for eye health, if we can postpone myopia, win win. (BUT: if I was struggling, alone, etc. I would 100% use more screen, but chose « educational » shows, not games…)

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger July 13, 2021 at 9:54 am

      I am severely myopic and became that way despite not a lot of screen during my early childhood. Interestingly none of the kids are (yet) but Cameron has it mildly (ie needs glasses in school only, doesn’t really want to wear them normally).

  • Reply Irene July 13, 2021 at 8:23 am

    Yesterday I had a migraine I just couldn’t shake, probably because of intense storms in my area and my kids watched probably close to 3 hours of TV over the course of the day. And they were at camp for the early part of the day! I felt mildly guilty but I prefer it to me yelling at them because everything is *so loud* when I have a migraine I literally can’t figure out normal behavior. Ideally two blocks of less than an hour each is our limit before I find behavior really getting worse. We don’t do video games because the kids have not really asked for them and they do really like some semi educational shows at the moment so we are going with that. I can’t believe how much my daughter likes this show called number blocks, and she has picked up so much math from it! I have realized through seeing her choices that she’s extremely musical and responds super strongly to shows with a musical element. I am NOT.

    My little guy just dropped his nap and seems to benefit from some down time during the period he would previously have been napping, and tv works well although we also do books and coloring. I think it’s one of those things that can really serve a purpose but gets out of hand so quickly.

    • Reply CBS July 13, 2021 at 8:35 am

      We replaced nap with quiet time when my son dropped his nap 3 weeks into the pandemic and it has been so so helpful. We use screentime as an incentive to have a good quiet time, if he stays in his room for the full hour, he gets TV. Now, he’ll happily play the whole time but it worked in the early days to get him to stay put. It took work but now is so nice to have an hour on nursery closure days and on weekends to ourselves, we do quiet time from 2/2:30, followed by 60/90 minutes of TV, then bath, then dinner. So really it doesn’t require much parenting from 2pm until bedtime.

      I do wish he’d watch TV if we weren’t sitting with him though, I think I’d use screentime more if he didn’t want to be with us…

    • Reply Sarah July 13, 2021 at 11:28 am

      We do something similar to CBS. We have a 4 yo and a 6 yo. Neither nap, but both need down time on the weekends (and so do we!). After lunch, we are now doing 1 hour of quiet time in their rooms and if that goes well 1 hour of screen time (usually they pick out a DVD at the library or watch something on Netflix). It has been working really well for us as we all need some time alone.

  • Reply KGC July 13, 2021 at 8:26 am

    Your policies sound great. I hope things continue to go well! I’m a big fan of hard limits for stuff like this with kids. I’m curious to know from SHU and other readers: are your partners/spouses on board with screen limits? If not, how did you broach the subject to get on the same page? My biggest issue is that my husband grew up in a house where the TV was just always on (so that behavior is ingrained) and it I’m sort of sound-sensitive, so that bugs me, but it also is just a constant distraction and occasionally results in my 5-year-old seeing news stories that he probably doesn’t need to see if no one has realized that whatever is on isn’t a kids show. Most of the screen time for my kids is TV (rather than iPad) which somehow seems better but still not ideal.

    Because my husband doesn’t regulate his own screen time, I’m always the one policing it for our older son, which I find frustrating and very much like an un-fun parent. And for my husband, it’s not a conscious thing – he just genuinely doesn’t notice that it’s always on and for how long! And he did turn out to be a successful, nice, functional adult so…do I even have an argument that too much TV is super detrimental?! Curious as to whether others have run into this issue.

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger July 13, 2021 at 9:52 am

      We are definitely on the same page. I do reserve the right to use screens while solo parenting. You don’t get to set limits on screens if you aren’t the one dealing with the screenless children 🙂 He agrees.

      • Reply KGC July 13, 2021 at 10:08 am

        That is most excellent that you guys see eye to eye. I think we may just need to sit down and talk about it so I can say my piece – especially since come August, my older one will be in kinder and I think will end up needing a little more sleep because of so much going on during the day. Ironically, I sometimes find it easier to police the screens when I am solo parenting because then at least I’m the only one in charge and I don’t feel as guilty about being the un-fun parent…on the other hand, I totally agree that solo parenting comes with the luxury of being able to bend the rules when necessary =)

  • Reply gwinne July 13, 2021 at 9:46 am

    YouTube is an issue in my house, because it’s hard to manage time. Like, Tiny Boy might have “an hour” of screentime but there’s no way he will get off a screen in the middle of a show….so we often have a conversation like “how many more minutes on your show” and then I set an actual timer.

    All screens are not the same (saying this for my benefit here!). And I suspect in my house it’s not time but content that’s the issue. A movie with the family is not youtube is not PBS kids is not minecraft. I need to explore this for myself/my kid(s).

    At 17 LG is almost literally on their phone or other screen (or multiple screens!) for their entire waking day (including school laptop use obv). But they also have straight As, a self-motivated learner, have many interesting hobbies, does extracurriculars, see friends, etc. I have complicated feelings about this but other than not getting any exercise (which is not the fault of the screen) LG is doing okay. They multitask constantly with screen in the background (ADHD issue, I think).

    • Reply Gillian July 14, 2021 at 7:12 am

      My older kids have very different rules than my littles. My teen has very few rules around screens. He needs to be getting his school work done (on a screen of course). He needs to do something physical daily(go for a run etc.). He needs to come to family dinner which is device free and all screens are off at 9:30 p.m. Like you my teen is a good student who is pretty intrinsically motivated. If that changed the rules would change too.

  • Reply Noemi July 13, 2021 at 10:22 am

    Video games absolutely exacerbate the behavioral issues of one of our kids. So much. And the amount of time they play them has crept up and up since the pandemic started. We definitely need to cut back. We already told them there will be no video games on weekdays when school starts but I am wondering if we should start that policy during the last three weeks of summer, when they are in camp. Maybe we’ll just bring it WAY down those weeks so it’s not such a cold turkey stop in mid-August.
    TV is not nearly as bad for them (doesn’t affect their behavior as negatively) though one kid can have tantrums when it’s time to turn it off. We don’t have TV the next day when that happens.
    When we put harder limits on the video games they do read and play more. Sometimes it takes one kid an hour of (very loud, unpleasant) whining and moaning to settle and read or play, but it eventually happens. I have to remember that.
    I also notice that my daughter’s friends, who spend lot more time on screens, read a lot less than she does. A lot less…
    Thanks for writing about this. It’s been stressing me out a lot. I know there were a lot of “do what you need to do parents!” at the beginning of the pandemic, but there have been other, “if we’d known this would last 16 months we’d have cautioned against boundary-less screen time…” articles recently as well (not saying yours is boundary-less by any means, just trying to describe the tenor of the articles.) So yes, parents have to do what they need to do, but maybe letting their kids play on screens for 2+ hours a day is not actually what they need to do (a message I’ve been directing at myself lately).

  • Reply TAS July 13, 2021 at 10:30 am

    I’m wondering if any parents here have tried audiobooks for kids? My parents would play these for us at bedtime as a treat for smooth bedtimes.

    • Reply CBS July 13, 2021 at 12:13 pm

      Ooh we do audiobooks for my son at bedtime and during his rest (as a rest timer since they are about an hour). I always think that it helps him stay still long enough to let sleep catch up with him.Wind in the Willows, Winnie the Pooh, Paddington, the Kitty superhero series, and Harry and the Dinosaurs. You can check them out via Libby. They help b/c you can say “If you’re still awake when the audiobook ends, I’ll come back in”.

      My kid can now recite books verbatim.

    • Reply Sara July 13, 2021 at 2:20 pm

      Yes! Audiobooks are fantastic – my younger son (age 5) enjoys listening to them in the car or while playing legos 🙂 My kids also really enjoy podcasts. Reading Bug and Brains On are some of our favorites. We can thank our childcare provider for introducing us to them!

    • Reply Amy July 13, 2021 at 4:36 pm

      My kids LOVE audiobooks and tend to play cooperatively and calmly when I have one on. The only issue we run into is running out of Audible credits!

      • Reply Amy July 13, 2021 at 4:37 pm

        (They are 9 and 6, btw. We started out with Jim Weiss when they were younger and have enjoyed all Beverly Cleary, some Little House books, Harry Potter, and now Wings of Fire.)

        • Reply Sara July 17, 2021 at 5:24 pm

          We get audiobooks from the library through the Libby app. Free 🙂

  • Reply nicoleandmaggie July 13, 2021 at 10:37 am

    Our kids are allowed 2 hours each on Saturday and Sunday respectively, after they’ve done the bulk of their chores (this summer they have a cooking chore once a week that can be done after). But socialization screentime is allowed separately– so DC2 gets about 4 hours/week give or take of Minecraft playdates with Zoom going at the same time. And Friday/Sat/Sun nights sometimes they all get on the couch with DH and play a cooperative game together (screens off at 7pm).

    DC1 is in high school but his computer is in what used to be the breakfast nook before he took it over, so he’s not closeted in his room by himself the entire time he uses it. He has unlimited computer time and no particular screens off time, but not for gaming. (If there was a problem we’d do something, but he seems to be ok.) Lately he’s been composing music(!) He also has an iphone and a kindle fire that he probably uses for things we don’t know about, but as long as he’s getting up in the morning we’re ok. We had a massive intervention when he was much younger and we found he’d been using his Fire to be a jerk on Minecraft forums, ditto DC2 when we found she’d been using her Fire to stay up all night watching terrible youtube shows. So they’ve gotten lots of discussion about dangers and online etiquette and the importance of sleep. The schools also give classes on Internet safety.

    We tend to change screentime rules based on whether they’re currently working or not. So we haven’t had one set of rules for both kids their entire lives. If they’re doing well in school and behaving and getting their chores done, we’re more lax. If school is starting to falter or they’re being jerks or not getting enough sleep, then we reduce time. They used to be allowed weekday gaming, but no longer.

    • Reply Grateful Kae July 13, 2021 at 1:55 pm

      I’m always interested to hear from people with older kids. I have 2 boys, 11 and just turned 13. So we are rapidly approaching (or in) the middle/high school years. I found screen time to be fairly straight forward when the kids were younger. At our house, when they were maybe ~ 5 and 7 y/o or 6 and 8 or so, the only thing they really played on was our family Xbox in the rec room. So it was pretty easy to have “screen time” limits, because I would have to go down, turn it on for the 2 hours or whatever we decided. When the time was over, I could just turn it off and that was that.

      Well, of course with time things have evolved into ipads, phones AND the xbox. Throw in the complication of interactive games and trying to coordinate with “when their friends can play”, the protests of “I’m not playing, I’m watching a video!!” and more, and it makes my head spin. They also are now at the age of using their phones/ipads to message friends, so I find it harder to just like, take them away when time is up, bc they coordinate meet ups with friends or just talk that way too.

      We definitely have some general limits/schedules but I feel like they are pretty loose…and pretty often ignored/ they go over. Some days I don’t care, like if it’s a crappy rainy night, but then other days I lose it and end up yelling, “TURN THEM OFF! TURN THEM OFF! FIND SOMETHING ELSE TO DO!!!!” like a crazy person. 😉 I also think there is a high likelihood that sometimes when I’m in my basement office working, they are probably “checking” their games/phones during time they aren’t supposed to be… sigh. It all stresses me out.

      • Reply Gillian July 14, 2021 at 7:14 am

        My older two are 11 and nearly 14. As I said below, they have fewer rules, but they are doing well. That is what works for us…but it is much less clear.

  • Reply Megan July 13, 2021 at 1:34 pm

    This is SOOO timely for my family! We just returned from 10 day vacation to national parks with two other families and for one of my children (middle 7 year old boy) screens were required every day while each of the other 6 children across the 3 families were screen-free (outside of driving days). I need to get on a new plan bc he is addicted and cannot go without it. I also struggle with his personality bc we need rules (i.e. no screens until 1pm) but then he has a VERY hard time being flexible like on a trip when we are exploring Yellowstone and he’s asking if it’s 1pm yet. I’m in a planning phase now bc I know it will be an adjustment for my husband and I as it has been a huge help but has gotten a bit out of control. Generally kids get screens weekdays 4-5:30pm when nanny leaves and until dinner is ready + weekends 1-4pm while 3 yo naps and we all enjoy the downtime. Ugh, such a tough topic but if anyone has thoughts, resources or ideas, please share! And also, how do you create rules for all kids (age 3, 7 and 10) when really only the 7yo needs rules/limits? Lots of questions here 😉

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger July 13, 2021 at 1:53 pm

      In our fam we just make the rules consistent for all 3. Otherwise real perceived unfairness will be a major issue. And no one needs screens 🙂

      • Reply nicoleandmaggie July 13, 2021 at 2:15 pm

        We have different rules for the kids. It’s a combination of making the rules consistent for their ages (so they have the same rules at the same ages, not the same calendar year) PLUS having flexibility because they start out with loose rules but lose privileges when things aren’t working anymore. If computer time on weekdays means they forget to do their homework, then they only get computer time on weekends… natural consequences. In theory if DC2 hadn’t stopped forgetting to do homework just like DC1 did when he started getting homework back in middle-school, she would still be able to play video games on weekdays.

        • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger July 13, 2021 at 2:31 pm

          Totally makes sense. Maybe that will happen in our house when the kids are older. For now I prefer to just keep it simple. Also the kid in our house that is most negatively impacted by screens also cares about screen time the most so it makes sense 🙂

          • nicoleandmaggie July 13, 2021 at 7:34 pm

            Our kids are 5.5 years apart, so having the same rules would likely be unfair to the oldest– when one is in high school and the other elementary school…

          • Sarah Hart-Unger July 13, 2021 at 8:44 pm

            Mine are too 🙂 but 3.5 and 9 are very different than 9.5 and 15!

  • Reply Thoughts (evidently on screen time!) before we leave – Not a Wasted Word July 13, 2021 at 3:37 pm

    […] changes, and changes require consideration and planning. So I guess that ended up happening here. SHU’s post this morning was probably also a motivator. […]

  • Reply Amy July 13, 2021 at 4:49 pm

    This is timely for us as well as this is an issue we have been delicately navigating since our older child (boy) was in preschool. I made a HUGE mistake allowing screen time when he was a toddler, buying into the narrative that it didn’t really mean anything / was helpful for me — I was forming habits in my child that are not helpful to HIM, even if they were / are helpful for ME in the moment. That does matter.

    This past year we allowed our older kids (9 and 6) to play Minecraft. They have about 45 minutes of Minecraft and 45 minutes to watch TV in the afternoons and a bit longer than that during the weekends. It goes okay — we definitely struggle with turning screens off at the appointed time. I also struggle with feeling like our day revolves around Minecraft, but my husband points out that it’s just part of their routine and they see it as one of the anchor events in their day. (I guess I just really dislike that a video game is an anchor event in their day.) They play on our computer and don’t have their own iPads, nor will they until they can buy them with their own money.

    Honestly if it were up to me we would have no screen time whatsoever beyond watching sports, but I’m not the only member of the family and I recognize that that’s a bit draconian 😉 — my husband sees it as teaching our kids good habits (and emotional regulation) which is definitely true. My oldest definitely needs limits and struggles with his emotions when games don’t go his way but I try to see video games / screens as learning opportunities. I also work hard to make sure he does lots of other things so Minecraft is only one hobby among many.

    Btw, have you ever read the book Boys Adrift? There’s a lot in there about boys and video games that you might find helpful.

  • Reply RKK July 14, 2021 at 12:48 pm

    We do 20 minutes a day for both kids (though not every day) and TV usually on weekends only (30 min + a movie night with all of us on Fridays.) We make them set a timer and if they don’t, they have to get off teh screen as soon as we notice there is no timer (now they always set a timer to get their full 20 min!)

    We have never had a lot of screens in the house ever since I noticed my firstborn was crazily focused on the TV as a toddler (turns out he has ADHD and screens are particularly bad for him.)

    I am not a model mom – full time senior management job (CMO) – (with kids in lockdown since Christmas) – I don’t do pinterest activities or experiments, don’t love games and read aloud only sometimes. We do do a lot of tickling and talking and walking when the weather is ok (toronto.)

    I find my youngest (6) is pretty good at entertaining herself and just knows screens aren’t really an option. My oldest (9, the one with ADHD) has a VERY hard time entertaining himself, so it’s much harder. But when i give into screen time, he expects it every day and has a complete meltdown if he doesn’t get it. It also interferes with his self regulation. So i just tell him to figure it out. a lot of the time he’s bored. a lot of the times he comes up with imaginative games to play with his sister. and often he jumps on the bed during my meetings (my office is in his room due to lack of space – I moved my screen so people can’t see him.) it’s not ideal – I need quiet focus time and am very driven by accomplishment and productivity – but longer screen time is just not an option for us given my oldest.

    when we do use it, it’s a direct reward and at a consistent time in the schedule (eg getting dressed on time)

  • Reply L July 14, 2021 at 3:58 pm

    I find managing and attempting to limit screens so painful. I wish I’d had kids 10 years earlier to avoid this; the availability of screens and even the need (perceived in many cases) for them has exploded in the time between my oldest being 12 and my youngest getting to be a preteen (she’s now almost 12). My 18 yo is in high school and seems to have a healthy relationship with her devices. We don’t limit her because she’s 18, but also because she’s able to find other things to do. My 16 yo and 11 yo have a hard time staying off, though, and sometimes have meltdowns when we limit their screens (because they’ve been on for most of their waking hours or because their behavior is unacceptable. I’m hoping they’ll both have more to do when school is back in session and we’ll have to deal with it less.

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