Screen-Time Limits for Parents?

We're on our devices a lot. Maybe we shouldn't be.
Sierra Filucci Executive Editor, Parenting Content | Mom of two Categories: Cell Phone Parenting
Executive Editor, Parenting Content | Mom of two

Distracted parenting has been a hot topic recently. Some experts link the rise in smartphone ownership to a spike in emergency room visits for kids under 5. Others say kids are growing up starved for attention from smartphone-addicted parents who don't even look at their kids during dinner.

While most of us would like to think we have a healthier relationship with our kids (and our phones) than other folks, the facts don't back us up. But what's really going on? Sure, many of us are sneaking a Facebook update at the park, scrolling through email while building LEGOs, and texting during bathtime. But we're also learning how to integrate this amazing new technology into our lives as parents. Our smartphone's map helps us figure out where to drop off our kids for swim lessons; texting helps coordinate afterschool playdates; and there are so many great apps for both parents and kids -- useful when you're in a particularly slow line at the grocery store.

Still, if we parents are going to be smart about our smartphones, we do need to make a few rules for ourselves -- just as we make rules for our kids on devices. Smartphone users tend to underestimate the time they spend staring at their phones instead of their kids. It might feel like 20 seconds, but really three minutes have passed -- long enough for kids to wander off, get into trouble, or feel neglected.

A few suggestions for keeping our relationships with our phones more balanced:

  • No devices during mealtimes. And if a topic comes up that you would normally google, add it to a list to look up later.
  • Leave the game-playing (Words With Friends!) until after the kids are in bed.
  • No texting or talking on the phone while driving.
  • Put away the phone if the kids are swimming unattended or doing anything else potentially dangerous.
  • Designate "no-tech zones" in your home -- and respect them!

Beyond these basics, only you can decide what works for your family. In general, kids need our attention, but not ALL THE TIME. So don't feel bad if you play Candy Crush while the kids are frolicking in gymnastics class. A few nods of encouragement will do the trick.

And remember, you are modeling behavior for your kids. So if you don't want your tween or teen to turn into a phone zombie, try not to act like one yourself.

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
What are your personal smartphone rules?

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Comments (9)

Parent of a 13 and 16 year old written by MzBeckyM

Thanks a lot for this reminder of how much kids follow their parents' lead; if we want them to develop healthy online habits, we absolutely do that ourselves. Having grown up without smart phones, lots of us are so captivated by these great new toys that we end up getting lost in them, all while yelling at our kids to stop texting and do their homework. It helps so much to have rules for screen time that everyone in the family follows.
Educator written by sthomas0623

I'm not a parent, but I am a high school teacher, so I work with kids every day. One thing I would say is that parents need to teach their kids that phones are not to be used during class. Too often, kids seem shocked when I tell them to put away the phone...because it's actually their parents they're texting! When parents are complicit in their students' inappropriate behavior in class, it makes it really hard to explain to the kids why it's not okay.
Adult written by Dr.Pepper

I remember when I was in high school I took a class where we helped in the cafeteria. One of the lunch ladies was constantly hiding in the corner texting her son (who was at school). Even as a teen I knew that she was setting a very poor example.
Parent of a 7, 9, and 10 year old written by mikebalint

I'm sure Sierra doesn't want to offend anyone but I think parents really need to take an objective look at their phone habits and ask themselves if this is what they they want to be modeling for their kids. Studies have shown that young adults send an average of 109.5 text messages a day or approximately 3,200 texts each month. They receive an additional 113 text messages and check their cell 60 times in a typical day. Next time you grab your phone to look at that new email while your kids are standing there waiting for you to get back to them, ask yourself it this is the kind of person you want to bring up.
Parent written by Cavey

The point about pulling over before using a phone in your car should be at the TOP of the list! you could not only kill yourself and your child but someone else entirely unconnected to you. Very very few things are so important they have to be attended to while you are driving. Make a habit of putting your phone out of reach while driving and ignoring incoming messages!
Adult written by 755100

Things have changed so much since I raised my children. I look at my daughter and I have to yell at her because she will text on the phone or be on facebook. I have to tell her , "Watch your son or it is time for your son to go to bed.". there can not be anything on a phone so important that you forget your parental obligations, put the "D*mn" phone down.
Parent written by elroger

I read the article and found out that I have a similar set of rules for Phone usage, since we all have different flavor of smartphones, the "no phone during meal times" was the first one to be set, I have one more but that one is for my kids and that is no phone after bedtime, I don't like them to waist sleep over some chatty friend or some other distractions. I know its sometimes difficult to restrain yourself from using your phone since you know you have access to almost any information (soccer results, nba, etc) but I think once you set the example it is easier to enforce correct phone usage on your kids
Educator and Parent written by ParentingTwinsAndMor

This is good. I have often thought of this when using my smart phone as I homeschool during the day. Many times it is related but I often think of its impact. Many times I feel its best to just put everything down and eyeball them when communicating. They need to know they are important to me=)