Why Setting Limits About Screentime Starts With You


Ever since my daughter discovered screentime at two years old, I’ve been thinking about how to set limits around it, and although I discovered some good solutions, I have never felt completely comfortable with the way I was handling the screentime dillemma. No matter what I tried, I always remained feeling anxious that I wasn’t making the right choice.

I experimented with the unschooling approach to screens (allowing our children complete freedom) and learnt a lot about trusting children to self-regulate. I saw many times that my daughter did put her screen down to do something else, and I learnt a lot about how important it was for me to be in good emotional shape to have the energy to offer her alternatives and to be there to connect.

Her screentime wasn’t excessive. Screentime hadn’t destroyed her imagination, and there were still many things that she often preferred to do other than watch TV. But I still felt that she was using the screen for emotional reasons and for boredom. When she wasn’t sure what to do, she seemed to automatically gravitate towards the screen.

I did offer alternatives, but I didn’t want to be constantly entertaining her by having a long list of fun activities we could do together. I wanted her to be happy to play alone, sometimes, and to come up with her own ideas.

As time went on I became convinced that she did need limits about screentime, and I began to use the Hand in Hand Parenting approach to do so. Sometimes she’d get upset, have a big meltdown, and then her mind would clear and she’d think of something fun to do that was completely her own initiative. At other times she wouldn’t feel particularly upset about the limit, and for some reason I didn’t feel good about setting a limit.

I kept questioning whether I was right to set that particular limit, that I was depriving my daughter of a learning tool, something that she loved, something that actually did inspire her creative play. So I seesawed between allowing freedom and setting limits, and never felt completely comfortable either way. When I allowed her freedom I felt scared, and depressed. When I set limits, I felt uncertain.

Then something happened. Over the summer when my husband was off work, I started to get more relaxed, I started to get more of my own needs met, and feel more present. I bought a book that I couldn’t wait to read every morning when I woke up before everyone else (the rest of my family does not like early mornings!).

It had been my habit to grab my phone every morning, and scroll through my facebook feed before my eyes were even properly awake. I’d look at my messages and notifications throughout the day, often when I was feeling low and needing connection. But this book was so addictive I forgot about my phone.

When I finished the book, I was tempted to pick up my phone again when I woke in the morning, but I tried hard not to. I stocked up on some of my favourite magazines from the UK and read them instead. Or I just tidied up the kitchen, or did some Pilates.

And then I noticed something interesting. I began to feel more confident when to set a limit and when not to. And when I did set a limit it felt right. When it comes to screentime we don’t live our lives by the clock. My daughter doesn’t have a set period of time to watch each day, instead I go with my gut (not my fear) about when it feels right to set a limit.

As much as technology is useful, and has changed our lives in many positive ways, it is addictive, and that addiction is widespread. I realised I was in no position to help my daughter with her addiction, until I’d begun to figure my own. Of course how could I possible know when to set limits with her and how, if I couldn’t even set limits with myself!

Parenting really is a healing path that we walk with our children. When we have a difficulty with our child, often the first step is to look at our own behaviour and emotions, and why we find their actions particularly challenging. It is always just as much about us as them.

If you are struggling with screentime in your family, I can totally relate! It is scary, watching our children disappear into the screen world, and wonder how to balance their genuine desire and interest for screentime with it’s addictive quality.

If you can find ways to handle your own screen reliance then you may find that like me that your mind becomes much clearer and you can see how to help your children. Listening time (one of the Hand in Hand Parenting tools which you can read about here) can really help.

If you have a tendency to grab your phone first thing in the morning, or feel you must check your messages last thing at night, then why not phone a listening partner instead. Set a limit with yourself and talk about how desperately you want to check those messages. What feelings come up for you?

Screens do make our lives richer, but they also create disconnection. When we want to build a connected world between our hearts and minds rather than our wifi signal then we need to begin with ourselves.

Find out more about how to set limits in my book, Tears Heal: How to listen to our children 

You might also like to check out these articles about the Hand in Hand Parenting approach to screentime, Setting Limits Around Screentime, and Setting Limits On Screentime With The Help Of My Parent Rescue Squad 



14 thoughts on “Why Setting Limits About Screentime Starts With You

  1. This is so very interesting! So many great points about why we turn to the screen all the time – what negative aspects in our lives or what aspects are missing that causes that reflex to pick up the phone and click. I’ve just written a post about limiting wifi with the teens on holiday but haven’t published yet – will add in a tefer cd to this post for sure! Thank you so much for sharing such great advice x

    1. Thanks for linking! I look forward to reading your post. It’s such a big challenge figuring out what we do about screens for all ages

  2. Challenging topic for all of us, children AND parents, as you so rightly said.
    For kids it’s hard to understand that we do actual work on our computers, so who are we to tell them to shut their tablet?
    As long as I am OK with what my son does with the iPad (Minecraft, watching cooking shows and sports, plus he learns a ton of English) I am more comfortable to grant him more freedom. I am pretty sure I will become a mean Mommy if he decides to play violent games. He has a friend who plays something where he “blows people’s heads off”, and I definitely do not approve of that.

    1. Ooh that game sounds horrible! I think screens are a part of our lives and our kids can learn so much from them. I guess what they are doing is their ‘work’ too!

  3. This is such a great post. I am the same and vary on whether to set limits or not. For a while it was affecting my sons behaviour and it was a battle to get him to even get dressed so we sat down and came up with a solution together which imposed a time limit for the day that he could use all at once or spread out, plus he could ‘earn’ extra time with activities like sports, writing, reading, drawing etc and there were also rewards (activity based) for not using all of his earned/allotted time too and it really worked. Eventually we found he was much better able to regulate himself and he rekindled his love of lego and cars and using his own imagination and so dropped the limit. His screen time has slowly crept back up again and I often wonder whether to set another limit (especially as my youngest is now copying her big brother) but feel hypocritical when I’m using it so much myself now. This actually ties in slightly with my post where I talk about making an effort to put the phone etc down/away when the kids are speaking to me and giving them my full attention, leading by example.

    1. Hi Alana, it’s great when we can figure out a way that works for us. That’s so wonderful that your son got back into lego and cars. My daughter has spent the whole week as a pretend horse, so although she does watch a lot of screen I’m comfortable her imagination is still intact! What’s the link for your post about putting your phone down? Sounds interesting 🙂

  4. On holiday recently with no wifi I found the same as you – a blessed relief not to be constantly reaching for the phone to check email and/or Facebook notifications. It really made me question how much screentime I have for myself!! It’s hard to continue with breaking the habit now though… This is a nice way to think about it.

  5. When I’m with the children, I’m with the children. I try to keep my phone in my pocket, the computer switched off and I give them my time and attention because I know how important that is. When they are at nursery or in bed I am very guilty of being glued to my phone which I should make more of an effort not to be as my husband would quite like a conversation!! #fortheloveofblog

  6. My daughter is quite good with screen time, she loves to draw and do creative things which is nice to see. My son (who is 18) is a different story lol. I don’t think I am ever going to lower his screen time.

  7. I completely agree with you on setting screen time limits for our children, but that must start with us. Once we limit our time on devices and watching telly, it should easily trickle through to our children. I am so bad at looking at my phone in the middle of the night, checking my email etc. I need to stop that as it’s not good for my mind which is feeling pretty stressed at the moment. Thanks so much for linking up at #fortheloveofBLOG. Claire x

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