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Illustrated watches for healthy screen time limits Screen Time

Healthy Screen Time Limits: How To Find the Right Balance for Your Kids

Haley Zapal  |  December 16, 2021

Illustrated watches for healthy screen time limits

Before we get started, take a moment to pat yourself on the back. No matter what you’re going through right now, raising kids in the digital age is hard. There’s definitely no guidebook, and we’re the first generation of parents to juggle cell phones, Fortnite, and social media with our kids. If you’re like most parents, figuring out how to set healthy screen time limits can seem harder than trying to understand Common Core math! 

No worries though — we’re here to help with pointers, conversation starters, and even just a little perspective get you on track. Let’s do this!

Think of Time Limits as an Extension of Structure and Routine

While they can be hard to implement sometimes, structure and routine are crucial to a child’s well-being. Screen time limits are no different than other rules like having a homework hour or feeding the dog. Consider sitting down and drafting a tech contract with your kid. By making the process collaborative, you can talk it out and give your child a say in some of the rules. When you make your expectations clear, your child will have a better understanding of what they can do and when.

Encourage Extracurricular Activities

Screen time is just one facet of your child’s world. Try encouraging their hobbies and activities so tech is not the number one thing in their life. A great way to do this is to require them to try outside-the-home activities. This can be playing a sport, learning a musical instrument, or joining a club at school. 

The busier they are and the more time they spend being social with friends and teammates, the less time they’ll have to spend on their phone. This solution is a win-win: not only will screen time go down, but your kid will also grow as a human and learn new skills. 

Talk About the Pros and Cons

When talking about setting limits or changing rules, kids may get defensive. This is natural, because often when kids are online, they’re really just connecting with friends, blowing off steam, or playing games. It’s an important part of their world — especially after all the time spent isolated in lockdown throughout the pandemic, when contact with other people was limited. But make sure your kid also understands some of the downsides of lots of tech use, like fear of missing out (FOMO), getting stressed or lonely, or even something as simple as headaches or dry eyes.

Here are some conversation starters to try:

  • How do you feel at the end of the day when you’ve been online for a long time?
  • What are the best things about being online for you?
  • Can you tell me about a time when you felt overwhelmed by being online?
  • How do you think your screen time compares to mine?

Boredom Isn’t a Problem to Be Solved 

Sometimes, screen time is just a default go-to when kids are bored. But did you know that boredom is an important part of being a kid? This is super important to remember in today’s era of instant gratification. It’s when kids are bored that they can find truly creative ways to entertain themselves — and even have fun! 

Also, screen time distraction can often prevent kids from recognizing their emotions. And while these feelings may not be fun, they’re still real. By not instantly opening up Instagram or YouTube when they’re upset, lonely, or sad, they can learn to recognize and experience their emotions in healthier ways.

Ease Into Less Screen Time With Different Screens

When you think of screen time, odds are you’re probably thinking of the hours your kid spends  on their phone or tablet. But sometimes, even a switch to a different screen can be beneficial. We know, this doesn’t sound like an ideal situation, but hear us out. 

It can look like watching a movie together as a family or having a Mario Kart tournament in the living room. These are both great options for families that aren’t quite ready for a rapid removal of all screen time in the evening or who want to ease into analog alternatives.

Healthy Screen Time Alternatives to Try

When you’re ready to stash all the screens in the kitchen and turn to some good old-fashioned family bonding, we’ve got some great ideas in this family activities blog post. Fun alternatives include real-life interactions and things like:

  • Game night at the kitchen table (dibs on Taco Cat Goat Cheese Pizza)
  • A walk together around the block (see if  you can spot the neighborhood golden retriever)
  • A picnic in a nearby park (everyone loves a sandwich)
  • Evening free reading time (either out loud or individually)
  • A favorite dip dinner party (this one’s our favorite)

(Try) and Lead By Example

This one is definitely easier said than done. Screen time for parents just isn’t the same as it is for kids. For one, things like jobs, family, and other adulting activities sometimes mean responding as soon as possible. Second, kids’ brains are still developing, and we’re still not sure how excessive screen time could affect them years down the line. 

But all that being said, there are definitely ways to demonstrate the importance of being present. Institute a no-phones-at-the-dinner-table policy — even if only for half an hour. When you’re watching a movie together, try to limit Instagram scrolling so you don’t get lost (kids can always tell when you’re not paying attention). 

Manage Screen Time the Easy Way With Bark

There are some free screen time solutions out there, but only Bark gives you the ability to set healthy screen time limits with schedules as dynamic as your family. Here at Bark, we don’t believe screen time is all or nothing, which is why we offer completely customizable schedules for each child.

Our approach to screen time centers on the idea that different times of day call for different screen time rules. For example, when your kids are in school, you can block access to everything but educational sites. And at bedtime, you can allow apps to help them wind down for the evening. And because all kids deserve to blow off a little steam, you can designate free time hours just for play.

Bark helps families manage and protect their children’s digital lives.

mother and daughter discussing Bark Parental Controls