Ending the Tug-of-War Over Screen Time in the Home

Written by Patricia E. Vance, President, ESRB
April 18, 2019

Ever feel like you’re on the losing end of a constant game of tug-of-war with your child over the amount of time he or she wants to spend playing video games, surfing social media, or watching YouTube? It doesn’t have to be that way. You can end the game and call a screen time truce with these helpful steps to set reasonable boundaries while nurturing an ongoing dialogue with your kids. 

Have the Screen Time Talk

Time for a family meeting! It’s easier to set limits if everyone is on the same page… even you, parents. Gather the whole gang and talk through how you interact with your devices, where you can cut down, and why. It may be challenging, but this is also a good time for you to gain a better understanding of how you interact with your devices. We’ve seen many parents discover that they, too, need to set some limits on device use. Walk the talk!

According to a study from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) in the UK, parents should “negotiate screen time limits with their children based on the needs of an individual child.” A teenager may need more screen time to do school work or socialize with friends over a game of Fortnite, whereas a younger child may benefit from a less screen-heavy schedule.  You know your children best, but the earlier you set ground rules the better.  And make sure that your children understand the consequences of breaking those rules.

If you’re looking to have an in-depth conversation about how your family interacts with video games visit the ESRB Parent Resources Center, including a Family Discussion Guide to help you lead a constructive conversation.

At the end of the day, as parents, we have more control than we often think we do.  Setting ground rules and them are part of our core responsibilities. Don’t be afraid to flex those parenting muscles.

Set Parental Controls

Virtually all video game devices, from home consoles, to handheld game devices, to computers, to phones and tablets, have built in parental controls that enables screen-time management. Certain time management options are more generalized, but many of the controls allow you to set specific time parameters for every day of the week, including for each child in the home. Once they’re set, the device will know to shut off when time has elapsed – meaning dinner time or bedtime can be conflict-free. Whatever parameters you set should be part of the conversation about establishing screen time rules with your child. Don’t activate parental controls without letting your kids know! 

Visit this page for a list of step-by-step parental control guides. And remember, screen time isn’t the only thing you can manage with parental controls, you can also limit which games your kids play based on the ESRB-assigned rating information, manage spending, select who your kids can play with, and more!

Stay Engaged 

According to a study from Cardiff University there’s very little evidence to suggest that screen time impacts child development. In fact, it’s been shown that children can benefit if parents remain engaged with their kids’ digital activities.

Additionally, sharing screen time can be a surprisingly effective family bonding experience. Whether it’s a friendly game of Mario Kart (loser does the dishes!) or watching an episode of television as a family, engaging in your kids’ screen time can strengthen your relationships and help you manage what they’re exposed to.  And when you’ve had enough screen time, you can always engage your child in good old-fashioned non-screen activities.

Continually Reassess 

Getting some rules in place will make everything a lot simpler, but it’s essential to continue to reassess what’s working and what’s not. 

As your children get older you may decide the rules need to be adjusted based on extracurricular activities, homework, grades, vacation schedules, etc.  Obviously, as your child enters his or her teenage years, it will become increasingly difficult to enforce those rules. And that’s OK. It’s all part of learning self-control and making good choices.  

Always remember to keep the lines of communication open and be conscious of your own behavior. After all, your personal screen-time habits set the ultimate example for your kids, so it helps to stay aware.

Originally Written for Family Online Safety Institute