The Screen Time Conversation: How to Talk with Your Kids About Healthy Digital Habits

parent talking about screen time

Our parents are usually our role models for how to have those big conversations with our own kids. Or, in some cases perhaps, how not to have them.

Besides “the talk” involving birds, bees, and babies, you probably remember your dad giving you driving advice, your mom talking to you about becoming a woman, or both parents sitting you down and encouraging you not to give up when the going got tough.

For most modern moms and dads, however, there are some conversations you’ll need to have without any past experiences to guide you. The world has changed a lot since you were young, and one of the biggest differences involves the digital devices families use every day.

If you’re like most parents, you have concerns about how much time your children spend in front of screens as well as what they’re viewing and doing on digital devices. You may have also discovered that the more you try to take control, the more they push back against your rules.

At TechDen, we believe healthy habits involving screen time and devices start with straightforward conversations about balancing technology use in our daily lives. It’s a discussion that benefits children and parents alike.

Here are some thoughts on how to have a conversation that gets the entire family on board, making for a more harmonious home.

The Power of “Keeping it Real” with Kids

The reason those conversations with your parents stand out in your memory is because that face-to-face time meant something to you, and you could tell it was important to them.

You felt like you were part of something that mattered. You felt a little more grown up.

Whether you call a family meeting or sit down with kids one-on-one, you need to be authentic. That means admitting your own occasional bad habits involving digital devices, and asking your children for their own feelings about when and why the family should limit screen time.

Clinical psychologist, Dr. Melanie Greenberg, explains this further in an article for Psychology Today about mistakes parents make when talking with children. Some parents have authoritarian styles, others are permissive, but both approaches are extremes that will prove ineffective and even damaging.

“The best type of parenting is fair, flexible, respectful, and has learning, rather than submission as its goal. Hearing and respecting feelings, allowing choice, yet setting fair and clear limits on unacceptable behavior is the healthy balance that we should all strive for.”

Frame up the screen time conversation in a way that allows you to set ground rules, but also gives your children the ability to take responsibility for their own actions.

When to Have the Screen Time Talk

Is there an appropriate age to have conversations about digital device usage with your children? In general, the earlier you start talking to your kids about this topic the better. But at the same time, it’s never too late.

A good age to consider having your first heart-to-heart conversation with kids is around the age of five or six. That’s when they’re starting school and will need to begin to manage their time. It’s also okay if your family has already developed what you feel are unhealthy habits.

As mother of two and TechDen’s communication director, Sarah Voss says to look at the screen time conversation as a way to make a fresh start.

“Maybe you’re just starting to see your kids wanting more and more screen time and you want to manage it now before it becomes a ‘real’ problem,” she says. “Or, maybe you’re already there, but you want to start new and start now. Today is a new day. Today you and your family can decide you want tomorrow to be different, and you’re going to make actionable changes to see it through.”

You’ll likely need to have more than one of these conversations over the months and years to come. Your family may need to refocus its efforts if you fall back into your old ways. Plus, you’ll need to address new concerns and set new parameters as children move into their teen years.

The most important thing is to keep communicating!

Why the Screen Time Talk Matters

In addition to discussing how much time family members spend on devices, you should also talk about the ways your family is using device time.

In his TED Talk on screen time and happiness, NYU professor and author, Adam Alter explained that there are mobile apps that enrich our lives, such as those that help us be healthy, stay organized, learn new things, and relax. There are also digital activities that tend to make us less happy, including constant social media use, excessive gaming, and incessantly following the news. People tend to spend three-times as many minutes per day on those things than screen time involving enriching activities.

Your kids likely understand the concept of why it’s important to make healthy food choices and how too much junk food is a bad decision. Making that comparison will help them realize why they should consider the quality of the content they consume on their devices.

Kids who are a bit older will also understand the idea of “out of sight, out of mind.” If you give them somewhere to put their devices away during agreed upon times, it’s much easier to stick to their commitment. We’ve all found ourselves mindlessly picking up our smartphones simply because they were sitting next to us or in our pocket.

The screen time conversation matters because you don’t want to raise kids who are slaves to their digital devices. You want them to experience everything the real world offers.

average 24 hour work day

Adam Alter’s TED Talk revealed findings from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics showing how, over the past decade, our personal time is getting eaten up by screen time.

It started with the release of the iPhone in 2007, and today, even though work, sleep, and survival activities such as eating and housework remained steady, there’s a small amount of personal time left. Too many of us are spending too much of that time staring at our phones and tablets. The time to start developing healthy digital habits is now!

Why it Works and How Parents Can Get Help

Conversations with your kids are important, but of course, talk can be cheap. Most families need a little help sticking to the plan. That’s where a solution like TechDen fits in the picture.

TechDen is a screen time management app with parental controls that gets paired with a storage device. You can use the TechDen system to start discussions about healthy routines in your household.

Here’s how to set and follow your family’s plan in seven simple steps:

  1. Have the conversation: Talk with your children about why balance is important and how the entire family is making positive changes
  2. Agree on a schedule: Set initial ground rules while allowing kids to contribute to the conversation about limits and time periods surrounding screen time.
  3. Download and use the free apps. The TechDen parental control app allows you to set routines, screen time sessions, and goals while managing multiple devices. TechDen Jr. applies those settings to your child’s device while allowing them to track progress and earn rewards.
  4. Kids get reminders: Your child receives regular notifications letting them know how much screen time remains and when it’s time to put the device down.
  5. Parents get notifications: If a child fails to follow the set schedule, you’ll be notified so you can have an honest conversation with them about sticking to the plan.
  6. Store and charge: Family members put devices in The Den™ for safe and secure storage and charging until the next screen time session.
  7. Your family achieves screen time balance!

Studies show children respond well to a predictable routine with regular notifications rather than parents suddenly demanding they get off a device because it’s been too long.

TechDen’s notifications to put devices down support another interesting idea Adam Alter presented in his TED Talk … the absence of what he calls “stopping cues.”

We used to have things that cued us to stop consuming content. A TV show would end until next week’s episode, you’d reach the end of a chapter in a book, or even beat the final level of a video game.

But now … there’s an endless stream of 24-hour news on TV and the internet. You never have to stop scrolling through social media. Addictive mobile games feature level after level, and we binge watch streaming video content.

With simple notifications, TechDen brings those stopping cues back into your family’s life, gently reminding kids it’s time to move on from their device.

TechDen is more than another parental control app and more than a storage device. It’s a system designed to be a family-focused solution that brings peace and understanding to your home. Find out more this parental control app and how it works, and visit our FAQ section to learn more.

Watch the Full TED Talk with Adam Alter