A Black girl sits next to her mom and dad on a couch, all smiling. She is pointing at a smartphone that they are looking at together.

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Be a Role Model: 4 Ways to Balance Screen Time Around Children

Kids learn how to use technology by watching their parents and caregivers, so model healthy habits early.

Topics: Screen Time
Parent/caregiver and young child using a tablet together

One of the advantages of modern technology is that you can be at the playground and scroll through your phone at the same time. We've all been there. We answer emails, catch up on group chats, and try to get in that one last text. The thing is, children notice. They're watching us, watching how we use devices.

Lots of studies show the effects of screen time on kids, and there are guidelines for how much is appropriate at what age. More importantly, kids learn their screen habits from us. But it's common for many parents and caregivers to be distracted by their phones when spending time with their children. These tips can help you balance your own tech use and model healthy habits for the kids.

Set device-free times and zones

When kids are around, set an example by using tech the way you want them to use it. Keep phones away from the dinner table, try not to multitask while using devices, and turn the TV off when no one is watching.

Establish screen-time goals for yourself

The secret to healthy tech use is to establish limits and stick to them. Try using your phone's screen-time features to track how long you use it. Then set some goals for how you'd like to be using your phone when spending time with family. Be mindful if you find yourself constantly responding to emails and messages during your downtime. Before you check your phone, ask yourself: Why am I checking my phone? If you don't have a good reason, put it down. And if you do pick up your phone in front of the kids, try to explain what you're doing. That way, they know you're using it for a reason.

Keep distractions to a minimum

You probably tell your kids to turn off their devices during homework time. Get rid of the stuff that distracts you, too. Limit notification alerts when spending time as a family, or set your devices to "do not disturb." Try to avoid using devices around your children on long commutes and journeys or at appointments, too.

Watch and play movies, shows, and games together

Whenever you can, watch, play, and listen with your kids. Ask questions that get them thinking, like Who's your favorite character? What do you think will happen next? This is a great way to have discussions about your values. It will also help kids make connections between what they see on screen and their lives. With older kids, you can draw them out by sharing stuff from your social media accounts.

Caroline Knorr and Sierra Filucci, former parenting editors, contributed to this story.

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