5 rules to follow at home to manage kids' screen time

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Think running a tech education company is hard? Try running a tech family in Silicon Valley.

Every parent is struggling with this issue right now—it's a global issue, not confined to a particular country, culture, or zip code.

How much screen time is good? Where are the limits? How do I get my kids to manage their own screen time?

Have you ever (maybe secretly or even indiscreetly) dreamt of taking the kids' devices and chucking them off a bridge into a lake? I have.

So, these are five things we are doing in my household in Silicon Valley to try to strike the right balance.

None of this is perfect. None of it. But am I failing as a parent if I am not perfect? No. The goal is to manage the screen time.  

How did we get here?

On January 9, 2007, Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone at the Macworld convention. And on that same day, the first iPhone was released.

Steve passed away on October 5, 2011. He did not get to witness all the good and all the controversy that has followed in the mobile generation.

Can you believe the iPhone, and therefore the entire smartphone revolution, has only been around for 12 years? Yes, just 12 years!

That means that if you have a 12-year-old kid, they've never known the planet without these mobile devices. And if you have an 18-year-old young adult, they don't remember a world without Instagram.

With our mobile devices, we can, right now:

Easily navigate to weekend soccer games. It saves us time.

Connect with friends and family all over the world, from anywhere.

Shop and have something like dog food delivered to our door with one click of a button.

Order food that just magically appears at home to nourish us.

Surely, we can all agree that smartphones get us there faster, connect us better, and make life a lot more convenient for our fast-paced, on-demand lifestyles. It's important to recognize all the good that has come from technology. I am very appreciate for so many of the advancements.

But, there are definitely side effects. Many of those side effects manifest themselves at home, with the kids. It's something my wife and I talk about almost every day.

Here are the five rules we use to manage screen time, and make our household a better place

Warning, though—managing all of this screen time at home with the kids...it's exhausting. 

How to manage kids' screen time

1. Use technology to combat technology. 

Phones are addicting. Even adults have an incredibly difficult time managing screen time. Many apps are addictive. Dopamine spikes every time we receive an alert. In our house, we use Eero to automatically monitor screen time and shut down devices for every user connected to the network. For the kids, that means 8PM. For mom and dad that means 9PM.

2. Don't treat video games as being all "bad." 

We give our kids the freedom to play, but there are limits.

Homework before video games? Yes!

Video games at 10 PM? On Friday and Saturday night. 

No weekend days.

Video games have downsides, but also upsides. There is a ton of problem-solving required to level up, as an example. Sometimes we just sit and cheer on the kids for a few minutes, and make it a social activity. 

3. Put phones away after 8PM on weekdays. 

Phones have to be at the "charging station" downstairs at 8PM on weekdays. And remember, the Eero shuts them down anyway—it's a double-backup plan!

4. Phones in bedrooms? Not so much. 

We aren't 100% stringent, but we remind the kids to keep phones downstairs, and if they completely dismiss what we say, we have no problem (I repeat, we have no problem!) taking their devices away for a day or two. They will survive! I physically take them to the office so they can't track them down. (They are so smart and creative!)

As we move from elementary to middle school to high school, we gradually dole out more autonomy.

5. Be a role model. 

Do you think our kids watch us? Do they copy our behavior? Yes! 100%. 

So, no phones at dinner, ever. Not when we eat at home. Not in restaurants. It's a slippery slope. Oh, and my wife and I also put the phones away when we go to bed. 

Everyone talks about this, but it is a hard habit to break. We keep each other honest and remind each other to leave the device in the other room. 

Those are the five main things we do in our household to moderate screen time, and the benefits are big

Benefits of moderating screen time

  • Kids get more sleep. Parents get more sleep. We all awake in better moods.
  • Less frustration from parents toward kids. Kids know the expectations. 
  • Kids learn about time management.
  • Kids find the balance to explore worlds outside their phones.

To be clear, this is still a work in progress. There are good days and bad days. Days with too much Fortnite. Days with too much Instagram and YouTube.

But with these simple rules, we've been able to re-balance the constantly, frustratingly colliding physical and digital worlds. We will not stop our kids from using their devices. It's not practical.  But we can manage their use, model good behavior, and, in turn, find reasonable balance.

Good luck on your screen time adventure!

A photo of Pete

Pete has been at the helm of iD since 2000. He resides in Silicon Valley. Pete has a love of design and is passionate about creating memorable experiences for kids. By day he is CEO, by night he is a youth soccer coach and chef of the house. Pete studied at UW in Seattle and worked abroad in Spain. He is fluent in Spanish, but his kids think otherwise. The best part of the job? Seeing the kids advance from tech novices to studying at top Universities and landing big-time jobs.

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