Managing Screen Time in Families: Part 2

parent and gifted kid infront of laptop - Managing Screentime in families part2

Family screen use contracts are a powerful tool in the management of digital devices for families.

Managing screen time in families presents a challenge. How do you balance your desire not to have your kid become an internet Borg, hopelessly melded to a digitial hive, with your desire to have your child be able to enjoy all of the terrific things available in the digital universe?

The good news is that we don’t have to become Luddites to achieve this balance. All we need is boundaries.

In the first article (This is part 2 of the series. Read Part 1.), I shared the idea of screen audit and a form to complete it on.

After the Audit

Once the audit is complete, it’s time to set boundaries in the form of a screen contract. Before you draft the contract, there are a few things to consider.

It’s about the family.

The contract’s purpose is to make sure that screen use aligns with the goals of the family, not to punish. Because of this, we must take the time to understand and explain why it’s important to us as a family to establish boundaries for screens.

This means for the grown-ups, too. We can’t be hypocrites, not even looking up from our own phones to tell our kids to get off of the Xbox.

Where do the problems lie?

Looking at the audit, you can see device by device, where any issues of greater-than-desirable-use lie.

For example, if someone is on a laptop 22 hours a week, but 20 of those hours are for study purposes, then cutting back to 15 hours may not be helpful.

There’s at least one exception to this, however. Sometimes, the work on the laptop should take far less time than it does, but it’s frequently interrupted by visits to social media sites (etc….). If this is the case, you may need to use one of the many available apps that block other apps in order to make the time more productive.

Back down slowly

To avoid mutiny, contention, and a host of other undesirable consequences, move slowly towards optimal use.

If a child has been using a device for 12 hours a week, and a use of 2 hours a week is more appropriate, move backwards slowly to ll, then 10, then 9, etc.

In addition to overall time, consider times that no devices are allowed to be used. What is the curfew for the phone? The iPad?

What doesn’t count?

When my kids would lose computer privileges, one of their work-arounds was to watch their brothers play (I only have sons.). Yeah, no dice. In our family, the eyes have it, not the fingers, so the time counts if you are watching someone else play.

You may decided differently for your family.

If you ask a child to perform a task on a device, perhaps that shouldn’t count against time.


How time is monitored should be considered. Will you set timers? If so, when do the timers start? What about saving time? Who hasn’t heard the wail, “But I can’t save!”? Ugh. That is not an accident – it’s video game designer mischief.


Part of the boundaries of device usage is the location of the device. Where are they allowed to be? We didn’t allow kids to have devices with internet connectivity anywhere but the common areas of the house until they were seniors in high school. It sounds crazy, but it was important to us that there be no hiding for their own protection.

Always, Sometimes, Never

Which sites are kids allowed to access anytime (teachers’ websites, etc.), sometimes (games, etc.), and never (porn, hate speech, etc.)?

Spell this out clearly.

Prep work

I am firmly against allowing kids to gain more screen time by doing things the parent sees as desirable (such as reading). The reason for this is that it sends the message that screen time is the best thing ever! It’s definitely something better than reading. That’s the wrong message.

It’s important to establish what must be done before recreational screens come on, however. You may have allocated 45 minutes to gaming on school days, but that time is conditional on the important things’ being done first.

What are those things? Homework? Care for pets? Citizen of the Household tasks (that’s what we call chores)?


Many parents are unaware that companies like Facebook will not give you access to your child’s account. If you don’t have the password, that’s too bad.

Because of this, password policies need to be established in families.

One simple solution is to have a password for each child that they use on any account (you can usually have one that works for even the stingiest of websites by having a combination of upper and lower case letters, numbers, and other characters). These passwords can be kept in a document that the parents have access to.


What will happen as a result of violation? While it’s important to discuss all of this as a family, this one is particularly important to be crowdsourced.

Keep in mind that kids may decide deliberately to violate the contract if they know exactly what the consequence will be, so make sure you change up the consequences. Keep ’em guessing…

Read the fine print

Like any contract worth its salt, this one has fine print. The fine print here keeps you firmly in your role as the parent. You trump everything when the need arises. Just beware of superceding the contract too often or it loses its legitimacy.

Good luck!

I hope this is useful to you. If you’re a teacher, it may be helpful to share this with parents if you think it may benefit them.

Remember, if you haven’t read the first article, you may wish to do that.

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