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Parent Tech Tips

8 Tips for Teaching Better Phone Time Management for Kids

The Bark Team  |  February 04, 2022

Girl meditates while thinking about better phone time management for kids.

Time management is key for successful routines that last a lifetime. Teaching time management for kids has gotten more complicated as families figure out how to deal with all the different technology in their homes. Perhaps more than ever, setting (and — hey — modeling) healthy habits is pretty tricky. We can do pretty much anything from our phones. Need to see what’s in your fridge? Check the phone. Want to dim the lighting in your family room? There’s an app for that. Looking to pass the time while you’re waiting in line? Hop on social media.

For many families, questions around phone use and access are starting earlier than ever. Plus, kids often need to use technology for school and to communicate with friends, which can make it harder than ever to set boundaries. What you’re probably wondering is how to strike the right balance and optimize phone time management for kids. You probably don’t want to move to an off-grid homestead, but you’re also not jumping headfirst into the Metaverse.

Is there a healthy in-between? We think that there is a happy middle ground and that the right combination of good routines and tools puts it well within reach. Let’s explore some creative ways and time management activities for kids and review a few extra tips for getting these healthy habits started without too much fuss.

8 Ways to Foster Healthy Phone Time Management for Kids 

1. Model healthy behavior to reinforce phone time management for kids. 

Yes, it’s true that most kids go through a phase where everything their parents do is lame. They have their own slang terms, friend groups, and an encyclopedic knowledge of internet memes. However, it’s well established that kids start to imitate adult behavior from a very young age. Remember the first time you said something you didn’t want your kids to hear but they did and it quickly become their new favorite phrase? Case in point. Even when your kids seek independence as teenagers, they will notice how you spend your free time and whether you’re prioritizing the same boundaries you’re teaching them.

Modeling healthy behavior also makes you more relatable. Your kids might find it interesting that most adults struggle with over-using their phones. This makes it easy for you to admit that learning phone time management for kids isn’t something they have to do because they’re inferior or less capable. Technology is with us every day, and keeping up good habits is a lifelong practice. 

2. When teaching time management, start tech limits early on.

Time management for kids is not easy. Just like modeled behavior, rules and boundaries that start from a young age tend to stick better and reduce fights later on. Though your two-year-old probably won’t have a smartphone, they’re still may be exposed to household screens and technology from the time they’re only a few months old. If you glance around your house for even a few seconds, you’ll likely see four or five different kinds of screens with interactive technology — from smart TVs to tablets. 

Instead of waiting until they’re older to address phone time management for kids, you can start now by working on more general screen time limits. Rather than creating a whole new set of rules when your kids get their first phone, it will feel more like adjusting existing ones. Plus, you’ll already have spent time talking about these issues together, so they’ll know that proper phone time management is an expected part of responsible usage.

With solid boundaries in place, you’ll have a head start on addressing phone time management for kids throughout later years.  

3. Replace phones with alternative time management activities for kids.

Phones are incredibly entertaining, and they’re always nearby. This is one of the biggest reasons that phone time management for kids feels so difficult to enforce. 40 years ago, it was a little easier to keep entertaining technology at bay. You had to wait for a visit to the arcade if you wanted to go play popular games like Pong or PAC-MAN. Many younger parents remember dial-up internet or big, unwieldy video game consoles that would take over the whole TV when played. 

Maybe we didn’t realize it then, but biking to the arcade or waiting for your turn to play a video game kind of forced us to have better boundaries. Here are a few ways that you can help your kids practice phone time management by giving them alternatives for entertainment:

  1. Keep offline options in every gathering space, including things like board games, puzzles, crafts, books, and more.
  2. Create a chart of non-digital alternatives that your kids can pick from. Think of this like an “entertainment hierarchy.” At the top are options that don’t need any permission and don’t have limits. At the bottom are options that do need permission and also have limits. Here’s what this might look like:
    1. Play outside.
    2. Play with toys inside.
    3. Get a new book or read a book.
    4. Play card games or board games.
    5. Watch a movie or show with the family.
    6. Play games online alone.

Your specific chart might look very different, but the concept is one that kids can easily grasp. As a last reminder, the more alternatives you have available, the easier it will be for your kids to find something of interest — especially when the weather prevents outdoor play.

4. Pick a specific day, or time of the day, for tech-free time.

When you put specific tech-free time on the calendar, your kids know that phones will get put away before they start their homework or get ready for bed.

There are a few ways to approach technology-free time, and the ideas below might help you find an option that fits your family:

  1. Put phones away or turn them off after a certain time of day.
  2. Keep phones off or put them away until a specific time every morning.
  3. Get everyone to commit to stepping away from their phones for an hour at the same time every day (during dinner, for example).
  4. Let everyone choose when they want to have their own phone-free hour of the day. This flexibility might help your boundaries feel more achievable and personalized.

It’s normal for kids to push back a bit against tech boundaries, no matter their age. But, they’ll enjoy knowing that the whole family is on board with a plan. They won’t feel isolated or singled out in their behavior if parents and siblings are sticking to the same routines. 

5. When teaching time management, make phone time management about more than rules.

The whole topic of phone time management for kids might feel a little dull. That’s understandable. Is there a way to use this topic to teach your kids about deeper values around limitations, self-control, and healthy balance? Words like “limit” give the impression that we’re taking away. In reality, good time management for kids is about adding things that encourage well-roundedness.

Are there parts of your life that serve as a good example of careful management? Perhaps you can show your kids how managing certain aspects of your life well has allowed you to achieve personal goals, or to help others. Do you give to charity, volunteer at non-profits, or help serve in the community? These can all be great examples of how managing time and resources promotes a full, healthy life.

6. Use incentives to encourage other behavior. 

Incentives can be a tricky topic, but they often work well. Using incentives to encourage very specific behavior is a smart way to get the outcome you think is best. Behavior-based incentives also keep every difficult discussion about phones and technology from turning into a bargaining battle. How does this work? 

Let’s use reading as an example. There are many reading programs that offer prizes, gift cards, and other rewards for participating kids. Today, lots of these programs can be completed entirely online

In a sneaky way, this teaching time management approach also takes you out of the hot seat. Someone else can be in charge of determining prizes, administering the program, and picking the best new kids' books! Plus, once your kids start the program, they’ll know exactly what they need to do to get an award. It’ll be up to them to put their phone down and pick up something else.

7. Use a screen time limit app.

Apps like Bark help parents control screen time and teach phone time management for kids. The ability to turn on and off access to apps, websites, or the Internet means you can be more strict when your kids are supposed to be doing homework, sleeping, or hanging out with the family.

Bark does a lot more than help with screen time limits. Our sentiment monitoring and analysis can give parents a heads up on suspicious activity before it gets out of hand. This includes instances of cyberbullying, inappropriate content and behavior, depression, and potential acts of self-harm. We look for this behavior over text, email, and over 30+ popular messaging and social apps.

More access, control, and visibility give parents peace of mind even when kids do spend time on their phones.

8. Make phones less interesting. 

With all the new technology, time management for kids can be tricky. Part of the reason phones can be so addicting is that kids can keep downloading new apps, games, and other content. A lot of these apps are cheap (or free), and they only take a few seconds to download. Once they’re bored of the latest trend, kids can simply hop on the App Store to look for something else that piques their interest. With millions of apps to choose from, this constant “rinse and repeat” cycle of new entertainment becomes addictive from even very young ages. 

A good way to encourage phone time management is simply to make the phone less interesting. There are a couple of ways to do this:

  1. Limit the total number of apps that your kids can keep on their phones at any given time.
  2. Have a rule that for every new app added, an old one needs to be deactivated or deleted.
  3. Allow a certain number of apps in each category: gaming, social, messaging, etc.

Extra Encouragement For Parents Struggling With Teaching Time Management For Phones

We all know that good habits are hard to start, and they can be hard to keep as months go on. Have some grace with yourself, your partner, and your kids as you make big changes. 

  1. Give your boundaries time to work, and time for your kids to embrace them.
  2. Periodically check in with your kids and let them know their opinion is valued — especially as they get older. They might even bring new ideas to the table, or come up with incentives that are more motivating for them.
  3. Add fun incentives to encourage everyone to get on board. Mixing up the living room furniture, adding a fun new reading chair, and building bookshelves to hold games and reading material are just a few ways to make these changes more exciting and positive.

Remember that striking the right balance with phone time management is about using both access control and self-control. While tools like Bark will help you grant or deny access to certain apps and sites, long-term success relies on your kids taking ownership over their own boundaries. 

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

mother and daughter discussing Bark Parental Controls