Imagine a world where you never again had to hear, “Mom, can I play MineCraft now?” A world where YouTube was not a constant time suck. A world where kids didn’t have sore necks from looking down at their phones all day. A world where parents’ voices weren’t blocked out by headphones. I would love to be able to give you this world and claim it for myself. But like so many challenges in life, it is just simply not that easy.
Nothing has more potential to cause fights in our home than screen time. Honestly, some days I wish we had no TVs, no video game systems, no computers, and only had simple, old-fashioned flip phones. But that’s not a very realistic hope in our modern world. We are dependent on electronic devices for so many aspects of our daily lives, and that’s not all bad. You can save time and fuel by using your GPS system to get places more efficiently (usually). You can find thousands of recipes when dinner feels uninspired (or you can order takeout). You can stay in touch with people who live too far away to see regularly. Knowledge is literally at your fingertips through websites, articles, videos, and blogs like this one. Our children will have to learn someday, some way, how to monitor screen time on their own.
But, when it comes to teaching our kids this skill, it often feels like there are more questions than answers. How much screen time is too much? What counts as screen time? What games are “safe” for my kids? What social media is okay at what age? When should my kids have phones of their own? And if your kids are anything like mine, they are really good at blurring the lines. So we have to have a strategy and very clear limits and expectations around technology. Here is what has helped us:
Differentiate between consuming content and contributing content - Some screen time is no more than us consuming content for our own pleasure, but some is actually contributing in some way, whether it’s putting content out there for others, contributing to our education, to our skillset, or to our income. It’s a good idea to spend at least as much time contributing as it is consuming
Make a contract - Get your school-aged kids involved in doing the research, setting up clear guidelines and deciding on consequences when the guidelines aren’t followed. Then have everyone sign a contract agreeing to these technology rules. Also, help them make a list of other activities they enjoy that include exercise, developing hobbies, socialization, and getting into nature.
Observe fast times - In our home, we have set aside one hour a day (dinner time and right after) and one day a week with no unnecessary screen time. We use this time to read the Bible together, pray, and connect about our day. Many years, we also fast from TV, social media and video games for one week while we are on vacation.
Know the recommendations - The American Association of Pediatricians recommends that children under 18 months not be exposed to screens at all. Children 18 months to five years old should be limited to an hour a day, and children over five should be limited to two hours a day. There are some helpful articles listed at the bottom of this blog.
Know your child - Every child’s brain responds differently to the stimuli of screens. Watch for mood changes, obsession over technology, and aggression as potential signs your child is getting too much screen time.
No screens 1-2 hours before bedtime - This may be the hardest to implement, but the hyperarousal combined with the blue light can contribute significantly to insomnia, which many ADHD brains already struggle with.
Use timers - We like timers with large digital displays to help visualize time which often seems to slip away.
Keep it public - Don't allow phones, computers, gaming systems, or other electronics in bedrooms. Try to keep them in public areas so there is more monitoring and built in accountability.
The dangers of too much screen time are real. They include hyperarousal, addiction, increased obesity, underdeveloped social skills, insomnia, anxiety, and depression (Mayo Clinic, HealthyChildren.org). The potential for hyperarousal and addiction are increased for kids with ADHD because video games offer high doses of what an underdeveloped prefrontal cortex craves. But perhaps the most concerning danger of too much screen time is the stress on family relationships. Not only does it take away from time spent together developing bonds and social skills, often the moods associated with too much screen time can be damaging to the most fundamental relationships in a child’s life. I hope these tips will help your family develop a screen time strategy that trains your kids to manage this difficult skill on their own as they mature into adulthood.
The content found on Flourishing Family Coaching’s website and blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding ADHD, anxiety, depression or any other medical conditions. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website or blog.
Colin Guare, Janice Rodden, Dr. Liz Matheis, Randy Kulman, Ph.D. “Do Video Games Exacerbate ADHD?” ADDitude Mag, 15 September 2021, https://www.additudemag.com/video-games-and-adhd/.
HealthyChildren.org. “Kids and Tech: Tips for parents in the digital age.” healthchildren.org, 2018, https://www.healthychildren.org/English/family-life/Media/Pages/Tips-for-Parents-Digital-Age.aspx.
Mayo Clinic. Are Video Games and Screens Another Addiction? 10 June 2020. Mayo Clinic Health System, https://www.mayoclinichealthsystem.org/hometown-health/speaking-of-health/are-video-games-and-screens-another-addiction.
Reber, Deborah. “Video Game Guidelines: 5 Smart Screen Rules for Teens with ADHD.” ADDitude Mag, 5 April 2021, https://www.additudemag.com/adhd-teens-video-game-rules-limits/.