Balancing screen time and life

Technology Think

As we head into summer, I’ll have an even bigger battle with my 8-year old son about “screen time” – watching TV, using the computer, and playing games on a smartphone, tablet, or console. Sometimes it’s easier just to say “yes” because I’m cleaning up, getting ready, or working. Sometimes I don’t realize how much screen time our family indulges in – until I look up, and we’re all looking down at screens.

To get some ideas about how we can balance “screen time,” I turned to “Screen-Smart Parenting: How to Find Balance and Benefit in Your Child’s Use of Social Media, Apps, and Digital Devices” (2015) by child and adolescent psychiatrist Jodi Gold, MD. “Screen-Smart Parenting” offers a thoughtful approach to parenting with digital technology, combining pediatrics, psychiatry, and parenting. It gave me a good starting point for dealing with technology in our family.

Here are three things we can do to balance screen time and life:

1. Make a family technology plan. We need realistic ground-rules about technology. In our family, the most important ground-rules are: children should ask permission to use technology; family computers and devices should be kept in public spaces; and technology time should be limited to 20-25 minutes (one TV program) at a time. Sometimes my son seems to bounce from TV to computer to tablet and back again. Sometimes we break the rules ourselves. But we try to stick with them.

My son is starting to send messages to other gamers in his “alliance,” I want him to be careful about what he posts. Having a written “agreement” can help parents and children set limits. Common Sense Media has a one-page “Family Media Agreement” for different age groups. It emphasizes being safe online; thinking before texting, posting, or believing; and maintaining a balance between online and offline relationships and activities.

2. Encourage online resilience and etiquette. The Internet is a giant marketplace of ideas and content, and we can’t protect children from everything they might see or read. We can help children learn to cope with negative online experiences, such as mean comments, cyber-bullying, or inappropriate messages. They need to be able to distinguish between fantasy and reality, identify stereotypes, and decide for themselves whether a website is credible. And before they write anything or send any photos, children need to decide whether it’s appropriate, truthful, and kind.

I really like the “Kids’ Pledge” on, that emphasizes online safety, etiquette, and talking with parents if children come across anything that makes them feel uncomfortable. I want my son to know that he can talk to me if he is confused or upset, about anything.

3. Promote digital citizenship. Technology is a part of our lives, and we need to use technology responsibly and appropriately. At the heart, digital citizenship is about being responsible and respectful when we communicate with others, offline and online. It is also about using the Internet and social media to spread kindness and stand against social injustice. takes the concept of digital citizenship even further, identifying nine elements of digital citizenship that encourage us to respect (etiquette, digital access, and law); educate (communication, literacy, and commerce); and protect (rights and responsibilities, safety, and health and welfare). There is a “Family Contract for Digital Citizenship.”

How do you balance screen time and life? Do you use technology too much – and if so, are there ways you are willing to cut down your screen time? How long could you go without using your smartphone/computer/tablet?

Note: The awesome graphic in this post is from Educational Technology and Mobile Learning, based on an acronym created by It’s a good guideline for all of us.

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