Every parent is faced with the challenging task of teaching their kids how to best manage their relationship with technology. While the lure of screens is real and ubiquitous for both kids and parents, raising kids with healthy boundaries around screens is becoming a huge cultural priority and as well as a necessity for healthy family dynamics

We asked members of the Thrive community to share their best practices when it comes to unplugging and connecting with their children. They admit that it can be challenging to serve as screen time role models, yet their determination to set flexible boundaries and willingness to course correct show that it’s possible (and highly rewarding!) to develop device routines that work. Check out their tips about how to step away from screens and how to fill tech-free time in meaningful ways. 

Make screen time more valuable

“They get screen time after they hit each mini goal. Exercise in the morning, then they get their iPad for a bit. Read a book for an hour, then they get their laptop for an hour. Go outside, bang sticks in puddles and come in covered in dirt — like kids should — then they get more screen time. Screen time doesn’t always mean garbage time, either. There is a difference between watching silly things on YouTube versus doing something creative, such as creating art on an app. It’s not just about the screen time; it’s also about what is happening on that screen.”

—James Philip, serial entrepreneur, Chicago, IL 

Turn limited screen time into a special occasion 

“While we are not afraid of screens, we make a point to value people and face-to-face time over devices. We pay attention to our daughter’s behavior and temperament as well. Screen time is not a daily given; it’s a privilege that is given at times and can be taken away. Drawing these lines has helped reduce power struggles. Knowing our limits is very important and, as a dad, I try to model that with my daughter by putting my cell phone away and limiting my own time with email or screens. My wife and I are also learning from other families and paying attention to what research says about the brain and childhood development. Lastly, when we do watch, we make it special. When we watch Frozen, we chill the house, bring out blankets and drink hot chocolate.” 

—Josh Neuer, licensed professional counselor, Greenville, SC 

Create no-screen-time family traditions

“To help our children unplug from devices, my husband and I will either take a drive to the beach for a nice long walk. Our children love exploring the beach for new sea shells to add to our collection. And when we don’t go to the beach, our other routine is a family dance session. We turn the music up loud and dance. Everyone picks their favorite song and it always brings a smile to our faces.”   

—Anne Clark, business and life coach, Melbourne, Australia

Find a balance that works

“Technology is a last resort in our home. We have stacks of books, puzzles, coloring, legos, and stickers front and center, and we encourage our son to play outside in the mud and sand. But, we also realize there has to be a balance. Some days he wants to shut down his brain like we do with Netflix when he’s been working hard at school or playing all day at summer camp. We set time limits and set him up with videos in which he can learn about nature, animals, earth, and science. Sometimes, he sneaks in a fighting game or something his friends love and we have a discussion about why he likes it. For our family it’s about validation, communication, and understanding.”

—Lisa Pezik, business strategist and content marketer, Ancaster, Ontario, Canada 

Lead by example

“I help my 10-year-old son unplug by setting a good example and practicing what I preach. It’s very challenging to do this even as an adult, so I know how addicting screen time can be for a child. We have some limitations on weekdays — we do not start our day with screens and at night, we have certain “active” hours. Right now, my son and I are following a Couch to 5K program in which we bike to our local library, hop in the pool, garden, or play soccer in the park.  It’s quite unlikely that my son has more than one hour of screen time on weekday nights. During the weekends, these rules are a bit more lax and I try not to be so strict around his screen time. Instead, I try to engage in what he is watching or playing as an opportunity to learn more about his interests. Doing this provides me with the opportunity to suggest activities in alignment with those things, other than screen time.”

—Reegan Hebert, non-profit management, Southern ME 

Set a summertime limit

“I make sure I tie screen time to something the kids enjoy learning about or a consequence (good or bad). When they know they cannot just pick up the device for relaxation, or ‘just because’, they severely limit their screen time. Both my kids also have a limit of two hours each day during the summer, and this includes all screen time. With my work, it would otherwise be very easy for us to slide into over use.”

—Aditi Wardhan Singh, entrepreneur, Richmond, VA 

Plan weekend activities ahead of time to discourage mindless scrolling

“I managed my relationship with technology first by uncovering where and when I was spending too much time online. I used the screen time feature on my iPhone and ultimately came to the decision to deactivate Facebook. Then, I filled ‘screen time slots’ with simple activities such as eating breakfast at the table, playing catch in the pool, or visiting the library after camp and taking a walk after dinner. Planning weekends ahead of time has helped us trade mindless scrolling for activities that forge a deeper connection with our 5-year-old daughter. This weekend, we visited the American Museum of Natural History and The Vessel in NYC. Discussing dinosaurs instead of the latest YouTube show was a refreshing change!”

—Carolyn Montrose, team workshop leader, Haworth, NJ

Encourage kids to communicate with others face-to-face 

“We’ve always laid out limits and expectations to avoid the battle of unplugging our children from their devices. When they were little and before they had smartphones, electronics were only allowed on the weekends with time limits. However, once they got older and their phones were used as a means of communication in addition to TV, video games, and social media access,  we had to re-establish the rules of when and where we would allow it. Devices are not allowed at meals, activities, or any social functions that require face-to-face communication. And although nothing is foolproof, it’s been a pretty solid system. The goal is for our kids to appreciate and know how to communicate with people in the real world, instead of just a virtual one.”

—Amy Debrucque, writer, Syracuse, NY 

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  • Marina Khidekel

    Chief Content Officer at Thrive

    Marina leads strategy, ideation and execution of Thrive's content company-wide, including cross-platform brand partnership and content marketing campaigns, curricula, and the voice of the Thrive platform. She's the author of Thrive's first book, Your Time to Thrive. In her role, Marina brings Thrive's audience actionable, science-backed tips for reducing stress and improving their physical and mental well-being, and shares those insights on panels and in national outlets like NBC's TODAY. Previously, Marina held senior editorial roles at Women's Health, Cosmopolitan, and Glamour, where she edited award-winning health and mental health features and spearheaded the campaigns and partnerships around them.