Limiting screen time used to be a lot easier. But with today’s mobile technology, kids can be “on” when they’re in the backyard, in the backseat of the car, at the bus stop, even in the bathroom. Here are some tips to ensure they aren’t overdoing it on screen time and are using laptops, tablets, and smartphones in appropriate ways.


  • Set ground rules for watching television during the school year, and stick to them.

  • Try recording kids’ shows. The change in viewing habits—watching recordings of favorite shows—works to a parent’s advantage. You can select the program, record it, and determine viewing time.

  • Make TV time a single-task event. Don’t allow kids to do homework or play on other devices while watching television; it can make problems with focusing even worse for some children. If they get antsy, suggest that they exercise (jumping jacks, walking in place) while watching.

  • If your child wants to watch a fun show, try to watch it with him on occasion. It could be a way to relax together and help your child understand that TV watching, in moderation, can be nice family time.

Laptops and Tablets

  • Set limits on location. For example, establish a rule that laptops and tablets are for family areas of the house (kitchens and dens) and can’t be used in the bedrooms or bathrooms.
  • Limit tablet use in the car—for instance, don’t allow tablets for trips around town. Some families find it works best to allow them only for long car rides.
  • Decide whether you want your child to have Internet access from his tablet. It’s important to set parental controls so children aren’t stumbling onto inappropriate content.
  • Kids love playing games on tablets. To help pick appropriate content, check one of the many online resources that provide guidelines for parents, such as Common Sense Media.
  • Park devices in the kitchen to recharge each night; keep them off-limits to the whole family.

Phones and Smartphones

  • By late elementary or early middle school, parents typically are giving kids some limited independence, such as allowing a child to walk home from school with friends. This might be a good time to introduce a phone so your child feels safe knowing he can reach you.
  • When your children want to text because “everybody does it,” try not to give in until they are later in middle school or demonstrate responsible behavior. Parents can control texting with their phone service by setting a texting limit or not allowing it at all.
  • When your child asks for a smartphone, ask him what he would use it for. If he mentions gaming or watching videos and TV shows, tell him there are other devices in the house for those activities.
  • Consider putting off the smartphone choice until the teenage years when your child may be able to help pay for it. Smartphones are expensive, and your teen will learn valuable lessons if she contributes to the cost.

A Final Thought

As children mature, it may help to give them a total screen-time limit for the day (between one and two hours, not including homework time) and let them determine what device or combination of devices they will use for the allotted time. This will help kids learn to set priorities.