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Reducing family screen time is easier than it seems

February 10, 2017 | Posted in: Elementary, High School, Middle Years

For Nicole, a mom of two children, ages 4 and 8, the start of 2017 was an opportunity to tackle a growing problem in her house: family screen time.
For parents raising children in today’s digital age, it can seem daunting to set limits on screen time and technology.

“This year, in order to actually try and stick to our annual new year’s resolution, I tweaked the ‘less television during the week’ attempts to something more feasible and pointed, like no television before school.”

“For our family, this route is working so much better,” she said. “I had no idea how much even having the television on in the background derailed our morning routine. No matter how early I got everyone up, we were still rushing to get out the door because the kids were distracted by the television. It’s been a couple of weeks now and things are going really well.”

When it comes to zeroing in on your family’s technology intake, it doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing approach. Much like Nicole and her family, it’s about striking a balance and finding what works for you and your family.

So where to begin?

According to Jerry Sander, a clinical social work/therapist (LCSW-R), and student assistance counselor at in the Minisink Valley Central School District in Minisink, NY, step one of this process can include starting a conversation about your family’s technology consumption.
He advises families to “have a technology talk, and take a sort of inventory.”

Nowadays everyone, even young children, has their own devices, and social network, app or game of choice. Sander says, “the myth was that these devices were going to increase our connections, and while that’s true to an extent, the reality is we’re connected to something or someone else – everyone but our own families. Now, more than even, we need to take the time to reconnect with each other.”

Once you have a handle of who’s using what, when and how frequently, families can work together to make their family plan. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests creating a “family media plan” that emphasizes balancing technology with other activities.

“I recently spoke with a student who has 10+ people in her household, and each person has their own device(s). To bring their family together, the family has implemented an “unplugged” family night, and the rule is when everyone comes together, phones are left in a basket at the door,” said Sander.

“For some families, it can even be as simple as no phones at the dinner table,” he added.

It’s a problem for parents, too…

Sander acknowledges that getting away from screens is just as much of a challenge for parents and teachers, as it is for children. “During lulls, it has just become ingrained in us to pull our phones out and pass the time.”

“Our phones are eroding the social-emotional skills that go with our daily interactions. In school, I’m seeing when the bell rings and kids change classes, instead of connecting with each other, whether by saying hi, or even making eye contact, everyone’s starting down at their phones.”

A recent study done by the organization Common Sense Media discovered that when it comes to screen time, parents are indeed poor role models for kids. The study, which asked for feedback from 1,700 parents of children age 8 to 18, found adults spend more than nine hours a day looking at screens. When these same parents were asked if they felt they were good technology role models for their kids, 80 percent believed they were.

“We have to model how we want our children and students to act. Children won’t change their habits unless we change ours,” said Sander.

What to do?

“Start with that family media plan and technology inventory,” said Sander. “Then set the right limits for your family, whether it’s no electronics after 7 p.m., no phones at the dinner table, or an “un-plugged” family night.

“Just talk about it with your children – figure out your screen time solution together, be a good role model and respect your own rules.”


Aubree Kammler is the mother of a one-year-old and is resolving to take the #devicefreedinner challenge.

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