Steering Clear of Screen Time Struggles

I have written much on the topic of raising children in the digital age. It could be argued that setting limits for screen time isn’t all that different from setting limits for bedtime or chores. But there is something about raising a child in this era of lightning-fast technological innovation that deserves a special sort of attention.


Because, having lived through it, we know a lot about the challenges that come with convincing kids to put on their socks and shoes on in the morning. Dawdling over shoes seems to be a fairly straightforward (and often effective) strategy for postponing the unpleasant experience of being peeled away from Mommy and shuttled toward school. In fact, it’s quite likely that we practiced the same strategies when we were young and less than enthusiastic about our A, B, C’s.

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The same can be said for most other unpleasant tasks of childhood — homework-doing, teeth brushing, and so on. We lived through these experiences when we were little ones so we’re reasonably prepared to address them with our own children.

“Time to brush your teeth.”

“I don’t wanna!”

“But you have to. Otherwise your teeth will fall out.”

And so it goes, with varying degrees of success, depending on our level of exhaustion and our child’s determination to postpone that mournful march toward final glasses of water, and the inevitable lying alone in the dark.

But dealing with a child who has fallen down the rabbit hole of a video game — a youngster whose brain is literally swimming in feel-good neurotransmitters — that is another matter altogether.

None of us lived through the discomfort of transitioning from full-blown online stimulation to the ordinary activities of life when we were children. We cannot imagine the difficult a child faces when it’s time to abandon an exciting video game or flurry of texts for one that is, well…not.

“Time to unplug the iPad/ turn off the video game/ shut down your smart phone and come to dinner/ start your homework/ get ready for bed!”


Here are three suggestions for navigating the new frontier of technology and screen time with fewer power struggles. For more support, visit this page for a special 90” Master Class with Dr. Dan Siegel on Raising Self-Reliant Kids in the Digital Age.

1. Be brave. When you’ve determined that it’s time for your kids to unplug (ideally, because your family plan has already defined limits), they will probably object. Be prepared for your kids to resist, complain, or tell you that you’re the worst mom or dad EVER! Remember this: the way children become resilient adults is by living through disappointment. Don’t let your fear of their unhappiness dictate what you know is ultimately in their best interest.

2. Be compassionate. It’s not easy to hit the Off switch. The more they sense your understanding of the challenge, the easier things will go. “I know it’s hard to feel left out when your friends are still online.” “It makes sense that you want to keep playing that game when you’re nearly at the next level.” Rather than lecturing, approach your kids in a way that lets them feel you appreciate how very hard it is to unplug.

3. Be brief. Many parents believe that when it comes to explaining why kids cannot do or have what they want, more words are better. NOT TRUE! The longer you speak, the more you’re likely to inflame the situation. “It’s time to hit the Off switch, sweetheart!” conveys kindness and authority, and doesn’t generate a temptation to argue and negotiate. “I know you wish you could have more time, and it’s time now to shut things off.”

I’ll be offering a Master Class with Dr. Dan Siegel on Raising Self-Reliant Kids in the Digital Age to help parents mentor — rather than just monitor — kids from toddlers to teens around screen time. For more info, please visit this page.

With a commitment to mentor our kids with clarity and compassion, we can create healthy habits in our homes so kids enjoy the digital world…and the real one.

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