How to Tell Relatives, Teachers, Babysitters, and Even Your Spouse Your Screen Time Rules

10 tips for talking to caregivers about your media rules.
Sierra Filucci Executive Editor, Parenting Content | Mom of two Categories: Screen Time
Executive Editor, Parenting Content | Mom of two

You wouldn't send your kid to a sleepover without telling the parents about your kid's allergies or bedtime bugaboos. Why not use the same logic with screen time rules?

We know it's hard to do. It can feel like you're being judgmental or don't trust the other person to take good care of your child. But if you have strong preferences about what and when your child consumes media, you need to speak up even when you're not around to supervise. Each situation calls for a different strategy. (And don't forget to empower kids to talk to caregivers about what they are and aren't comfortable watching, playing, or reading.)

Here are 10 ways to express your wishes to babysitters, friends, and relatives.

Daycare or After-School Program

  • Assess the situation. If you have a choice of daycare or after-school programs, ask the director about his or her stance on media use before you sign up. Say: "Do kids ever watch TV or play video games during the day?" But if you find out after the fact that your kids are consuming more media than you'd like -- or you don't like what they're watching or playing -- it's time for a talk.
  • Be respectful but clear. Ask: "What's your policy on TV/movie/etc. use when the kids are in your care?"
  • Find a solution that works for you. Try something like: "I'm not comfortable with my kids watching that much TV. What alternatives can we come up with?" If you still don't get what you want, you can band together with other parents to present a unified front ... or change caregivers.

The Babysitter

  • Check in. Your kids might love the teenage babysitter who brings candy and lets them play on her iPhone, but when it comes to your house and your kids, it's important to speak up for what you expect. Besides, if she wants more babysitting gigs, it's helpful for her to know where you stand on everything from bedtime to posting pictures of your kids online.
  • Be specific about what is and isn't OK. "I don't want them watching any TV at all, but they can play 30 minutes of video games before dinner." Or prepare them for the challenges you think they'll face: "My daughter will probably ask you to read Goosebumps before bed, but please ask her to choose a different book instead. I don't want her to have nightmares."

Relatives

  • Be clear. Uncle Bob may love your kids but have no clue that Grand Theft Auto isn't your idea of age-appropriate gaming. And how about the aunt whose taste in books leans toward the romantic? Help relatives (and yourself) by speaking up about your media rules. Say: "We're only watching G-rated movies in our house right now." Or: "I liked the book you got for Danny last year. He's probably ready for the next in the series."
  • Do damage control. If your sister tries to be cheeky and buys your daughter a "How to Flirt" book, explain to your daughter that you'll have to keep it until she's older, even if she gives you the stink eye.

Your Spouse

  • Stay flexible. You may have had a great plan for how and when your toddler could watch TV or play with the iPad, but as she gets older, new choices open up.
  • Compromise. You have to agree on some basics so you can present a united front to the kids. Often one parent is more lax, and this can really irk the more restrictive partner. Hopefully you can work out something you both can live with. Just make sure to have this conversation behind closed doors. Try: "I'd like to start eating dinner at the table instead of in front of the TV. How do you feel about that?"
  • Fix mistakes. If one spouse breaks the agreement, hash out the issue after the kids are in bed. "We agreed the kids weren't ready for PG-13 movies. I'm upset that you took them to see Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles after we'd made that agreement. How can we talk to the kids about this change to our rules?"

Related tags

About Sierra Filucci

Sierra has been writing and editing professionally for more than a decade, with a special interest in women's and family subjects. She has a master’s degree in journalism from the University of California at Berkeley,... Read more

Add comment

Sign in or sign up to share your thoughts

Comments (14)

Parent written by Thankful Parent

First of all, I want to say "THANK YOU" for this post. Despite some of the comments here, I appreciate you writing this helpful article. I think that some of the comments about children "being made fun of" because they don't watch tv is absurd. If they are, that really goes to show you what message these shows are sending our children. As parents it is our choice to parent how we best see fit and to ridicule someone for having different beliefs or desires for their children is something that I am trying to teach my kids is wrong. We choose not to do much tv at all and what is viewed is closely monitored by us, the parents. We love our kids and are not driven by a desire to be strict but to show them that negative influences do not have to surround us. We have a choice to either let bad morals and influences penetrate our lives or to live in such a way that we are filling our minds with good things, doing outings and games as a family, creative play and reading books. We want to show our kids that there are other choices, and just because everyone else is doing it, doesn't make it right. We also explained why we chose this instead of just a no, you can't. We chose it because it is our jobs to protect our children, and this is one way we do that. We can have open and honest conversations about relevant issues that they are likely to run into, but instead of being fed only one sided views or skewed views of what is "normal" we can discuss how to handle different situations with different viewpoints.
Kid, 11 years old

"no TV at all" All you're doing is ruining your kids' social lives. They're gonna be bullied and made fun of for it.
Kid, 11 years old

Totally agree. Maybe the adults don't know this but TV is a big part in tween's and teens lives, a lot of what me and my friends talk about is TV shows especially The Big Bang Theory and Modern Family and if somebody doesn't watch these shows they can't really join in with conversations if they're not allowed to watch the specified shows or any TV or if they don't have that show, e.g maybe they can't watch modern family because they don't have Sky. TV is important!
Educator and Parent written by Mama Prof

"It can feel like you're being judgmental or don't trust the other person to take good care of your child." That's because it is and you don't. And if that's the case, then don't let your child beyond the periphery of your watch.
Kid, 10 years old

ok i realize that this seems pretty strict (especially to kids like me) but for parents this is really helpful!
Adult written by CSM Screen name...

As someone who definitely watched too much tv as a kid, I appreciate the idea of creating thoughtful perameters on media consuption. That being said, as a NYC nanny of "no screen" kids, I hate the notion of such a blind rule. Dont get me wrong--I love that the kids don't spend all day watching tv. I enjoy being actively involved with the. However, they are surrounded by a society and peers who have access to tv and computers. It's embarrassing to be so socially and culturally out of touch. Not to mention the over-protectiveness. To be honest, I worry that they're develoloping a serious complex about it. It becomes a weird bribe or something one parent allows I. Secret because they are lazy or worn out or even just sympathetic. I like the idea of a tv allowance. 30 mins a day of parent-approved programming sounds like a reasonable starting point. It allows children (and parents) to put thought into their choices and prioritize. There should be some flexibility but within reason and above all consistent: only sick days or weekend with grandm and grandpa, etc.) Kids deserve tv and computers. They also deserve parenting. Let's strike a balance!
Parent written by dogpsych69

As so many of the responses to this courageous post show, this is a touchy subject for many reasons. As someone who has studied societal trends, and their impacts, for over 40 years, this is a fascinating area. This post could be compared to a non-alcoholic taking evidence-based healthy decisions in an alcoholic society. From an evidence-based point of view, this parent is choosing the difficult path of being a parent and guardian to their children, of 'parenting' in a society where it is rarely acceptable to do so. Evidence shows that, from a mixture of feeling inadequate and, put bluntly, 'laziness' - US and similar cultures are seriously damaging their offspring through their reluctance to parent. A parent who actively parents puts themselves at risk of criticism, as the trend is towards parents being 'friends' to their children, thus avoiding the discomfort, and rewards, of emotional maturity for the entire famiy. Simply put, our decisions show who we are. The current mainstream of society makes decisions based on putting possessions above our family life; we choose to have two parents working full-time rather than choosing less possessions and more time with our family. We choose, and make it OK for the sake of ubiquitous 'convenience' for our children to be parented, advised and de-sensitised emotionally, by a media that is mainly self-serving in it's blatant encouragement of consumerism and lack of age-appropriate material (the latter encouraging our appetite for ever-more 'edgey' material). This parent may or may not be not 'strict' - they are choosing for their child to be one of the few NOT corrupted by inappropriate media, inappropriate in content as well as in its inflated importance in family life. According to the evidence available from data collected over the last 30 years, this parent is choosing for their child to be one of the emotionally well-adjusted, educationally above average, contributing members of our society. I think that's worth a few sour-grape comments from others.
Educator and Parent of a 6 and 11 year old written by connielove93

Exactly!!! No TV at all?? so unrealistic, ny kids r glued 2 the tv & they're fine
Parent of a 3, 6, and 10 year old written by rockpounder family

I have to say Sierra - "THANK YOU!" I am going to pass this on to other parents who say - "it was only this one time." I am a dad of 3 boys 10, 6 and 3. But my wife and I are on the same page. She's awesome! :o) This is just a confirmation that we are doing the right thing for our kids! It our responsibility to teach them and take the blame for not communicating to other relatives and friends. Thanks again!!