Just as with sugar, junk food, time out in the sun, parents should also limit time spent on screens. “Screens” include televisions, DVD players, computers, smartphones and tablets.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following healthy media habits:

  • limiting screen time use for children 18 months of age to video calls with loved ones
  • children 2-5 years old: 1 hour per day
  • children 6 years and older: limit screen use so that it does not interfere with healthy sleep, physical activity, chores or extracurriculars and family time

Tackling the screen issue can be very overwhelming, I admit. We live in a world where everything and everyone is connected and plugged in. We use screens for work, home and play. We have watches that link to our phones and we have the ability to stream movies and television shows on the go. But, that’s why it’s so important for the entire family to talk about screen use.

Step 1: Before talking about healthy media habits, we must first look at our own use.

When thinking about screen use, parents are urged to reflect first on their own screen use. As you’ve heard me say before, parents are their children’s first teachers and they are constantly watching and seeing what we do…whether we like it or not. When we ask our children to put the tablet down or turn off the television but don’t apply the same rules to ourselves can seem very contradictory and sends mixed messages to children. It also will make having the conversation about healthy media habits harder.

iOS users can find out how much screen use each person has (at least for the smart phone or tablets) by using Apple’s Screen Time to understand patterns of screen use even across various apps and games. (Parents, you can also use it to limit certain apps and games).

Step 2: Say No to “Background TV”

Parents are urged to limit “background TV” or just having the television on when no one is really watching. This habit not only interferes with children’s attention but also children’s ability to control emotions and verbal interactions between parents and children.

RELATED: Background TV and Children’s Language Development

Step 3: Make a media plan to figure out how much spare time can be used (reasonably) for screens

One way parents can limit screens is enforce family rules about screen time. However, even with the guidelines above, it may be easier to talk through what time there actually is to use screens after accounting for everything else that needs to be done. If screens displace or take the place of a child getting out to play outside, read a book or sleep, it can cause real problems including obesity, poor social and reading skills.

Families will find the AAP Media Plan a useful way to calculate how much time in a day can be used for screens. Talking with your children about each day only being made up of 24 hours and dividing up those hours across sleep and other activities can be helpful. Setting aside time to introduce the media plan during a family meeting is one way to start the conversation.

RELATED: How to Make a Family Media Use Plan (Healthychildren.org)

Step 4: Now, put the rules into action

Most families I meet can do steps 1 to 3 with no problem.

Self-reflect? Check.

Turn off background TV. Check.

Talk to the kids? Check.

That’s note the issue, it’s the day to day of following the media plan that is often harder to make stick.

I’ve developed a family system to develop family tech rules & track chores and screen use each week while teaching your child responsibility.

I’m not talking about generic sticker charts. I’m talking about a screen time tracker system that ties into your allowance system. I’m also talking about giving children the ability to weigh the choices between screen time and allowance. Providing them with opportunities to prioritize what other activities, chores or health behaviors need to be done (with parental oversight and active discussion).

I’ve developed a family communication tool to help families like yours start talking about family tech rules during the school year and when school is out. It includes tracking sheets to monitor chores and allowable weekend screen time use.

In our home, we fought long and hard to draw the line of NO playing on tablets during the week. I’ll be the first to admit, it has been increasingly hard. Our children, ages 9 and 12, use screens as a way to be social with their friends, use shared documents on google drives for school assignments and are required to critique classmates’ work in interactive digital forums. To do these things, our kids need access to screens.

So this past year we “relaxed” the rules a bit and created our own plan to allow screens AFTER certain chores and tasks were done between the window of after school until dinner time. At that point, all screens were retired for the day in a designated area (even ours!) so that we could enjoy a family meal and reconnect by sharing funny stories about our day. This also prevented unwanted exposure to blue light before bedtime that is known to interfere with children’s sleep.

We wanted to think about a system to encourage our children to learn how to prioritize everything that needs to be done and what we wanted to do with leisure time (spend time catching up on shows on Netflix! or video calls with friends) and trying to find the balance. With everything, moderation is key. We just can’t have screens take over and replace healthy habits and things that have to be done around the house.

This family tool may be helpful for you too. So I decided to write about it and share it. Let me know if you use it. Feel free to send me comments. I love creating things and I am always working on revising tools like this to make sure it is easy to start, easy to use and practical.

When I first started designing this for our family, I wanted to divide up chores “that are done to help the house run” versus other chores that can my kids can do which would help me out, plus instill healthy life skills but earn them additional screen time for weekend use. Now, wait…didn’t I just say we have to limit screen time and here I am offering my kids a chance to earn more??? Keep reading…

I also wanted to make clear what actions or behaviors needed to be done BEFORE screen use (think home work, reading a book, having a snack, or walking the dog).

My kids can “bank” their extra screen minutes they earn for doing specific chores during the week. On Saturday mornings, we review what they earned, talk about what needs to be done for the day (and write them down on a checklist). With this system, we provide flexibility to use the screen time minutes during the day OR turn them in for more allowance. However, unlike cell phone plans, unused screen time minutes don’t roll over. I wanted to give them a chance to think about whether using the screen to have a little longer to play a game was worth more than earning money back to add to their allowance.

After you download the Family Tech Rules and Chore/Screen Tracker system, pre-plan before sitting down for the family meeting:

  1. Figure out what amount feels right for a baseline weekly allowance. Rather than giving our children a set amount of money for each chore, we transfer a set amount of money into their savings account at the end of each month for helping contribute to the chores that help the entire family (“the chores that are done to help the house run”). This way it isn’t “If I do this I should earn fifty cents” and tallying up chores. Now that our children are 9 and 12 years old, everyone gets the same baseline allowance amount.
  2. Figure out what your baseline weekend screen time use is (not just for the children, but parents too!). Pick something you can live with and fits within the Media Plan discussion you had with your children. You can’t waste endless hours of the day on screens and still do everything else you need to without compromising sleep and relationships. However, we all use screens for work and leisure time–so let’s just be smart about it and think about it in context of everything else.

Together with your children:

1. Come up with your list of chores/behaviors that are done to help the house run. We grouped ours by specific categories. Yours may be different.

Examples are:

self care activities: brushing teeth and getting dressed

care of personal space: includes make bed, turning off lights before heading downstairs

care of shared space: flushing the toilet, wiping off bathroom sink, leaving kitchen the way you found it after eating

household chores: collection of trash on Thursday nights, bringing dirty clothes to laundry area

2. Talk about daily tasks before screen use. I’ve included tech rules for when school’s in and school’s out because your family rhythms may be vastly different depending on what time of year it is.

3. Brainstorm additional chores that can be done to earn weekend screen time minutes. Here are some ideas to get you started: cleaning the toilet, mopping the kitchen floor, dusting the blinds, folding laundry, or vacuuming the bedroom.

Doing this system has helped our family talk openly about healthy versus unhealthy screen use, set family tech rules for EVERYONE, review household chores and expectations and resulted in organized chunks of our day that are dedicated to family, chores and taking on responsibilities. For our family, we also acknowledged screen use for work or school versus for leisure (in moderation).

Do we fall off the wagon sometimes? Yes, of course!

But having our family tech rules posted on our refrigerator facing the dining room table ensures we can all see it. Having a separate one for when school’s in or out gives us an opportunity to re-evaluate and talk about our family needs more than once a year. The plan is there even if we have to restart and refocus from time to time. Because life happens.

What you get if you get my Family Tech Rules and Chore/Screen Tracker System:

  • Template for family tech rules for the school year
  • Template for family tech rules for when school’s out
  • Chore tracker sheet that you can customize for each child
  • Weekend screen time use tracker for each child

Download the Family Tech Rules and Chore/Screen Tracker system and make it your own! I sincerely hope it helps you and your family develop healthy media habits together!


As always, don’t be shy–tell me what you think!

Would love to hear from you!

RELATED: Tired of Nagging Your Child To Get off Screens? (Download my free infographic with parenting tips)

Written by

Nerissa Bauer

I am a behavioral pediatrician, consultant, child advocate and blogger. I am a wife, mommy to 2 amazing children and a golden retriever. Love cooking, travel, reading, tap and creating.