Reining in screen time: A gentle guide

Parenting Place Reining in screen time

While there are real benefits to all those handy screens in our lives (connection with faraway loved ones, online grocery shopping and relatable parenting memes would be my top three), there are also downsides. When screen time isn’t balanced with the other things that make us happy humans (things like exercise, sleep, time outdoors and most importantly, face-to-face connection), the benefits are overpowered by the negatives.

The annual nib State of the Nation Parenting Survey recently canvassed 1200 parents in Aotearoa and revealed that the impact of technology and screen time on children topped the list of parental concerns, with gaming and social media also being significant worries. With what we know of the effects of screen time on sleep, it’s probably no coincidence that lack of sleep in kids is one of the major health concerns highlighted in the report.

Counting sheep

Too much screen time isn’t good for us, and it’s addictive – who hasn’t found themselves obsessively scrolling Instagram or TikTok when they know sleep is calling? Add to the mix the fact that the blue light being emitted from our screens prevents the production of melatonin (the hormone that controls our sleep-wake cycle) and it’s no wonder that we can find it pretty tough to get to sleep and even harder to wake up in the morning.

Sleep is essential, especially for kids (who can't yet rely on coffee like us!). Studies prove that kids who get consistently good sleep have improved attention, behaviour, learning, memory and overall mental and physical health. Young kids aged six to twelve need around 9-12 hours a night, while teens need 8-10 hours. My husband rolls his eyes when I claim to need nine hours sleep to function at my best these days – but it’s true!

So, with the impacts of device use and sleep issues in mind, here is where we need to step in as parents and ensure there is good balance for our kids when it comes to screen time.

Putting limits in place

Limits are good. While we can’t realistically stop kids from ever having screen time, and we probably can’t stop them from wanting it and asking for it, we can put boundaries in place around when, where and for how long they can use devices. Sometimes it takes a bit of work to stick to these limits and continually reinforce them until the kids get the message that we won’t budge. Patience and consistency are key here and kids will adjust to the new framework.

Every whānau is different and parenting isn’t black and white. How much access to technology you want your kids to have is something you get to decide for your family. Limits will also vary according to circumstances and device use will change as your kids get older too.

We probably can’t stop kids from wanting screen time and asking for screen time, but we can put boundaries in place around when, where and for how long they can use devices.

Often, discussions around device use are better received during a scheduled family meeting – we big fans of 'the family reset'. There can be more buy-in when boundaries are discussed as a family, and there’s an opportunity for kids to identify the positives and negatives they see from device use and feel heard as they voice their opinions too. Be honest and share your own thoughts – it’s great to share insights into how too much screen time affects us as adults as well.

If screen time has overtaken your family recently, you’d be in good company. You might want to gradually scale it back with a planned approach so there’s not too much of a shock to the system. Remember there is no one-size-fits-all approach – what works for one family might not work for another.

Tips for ending screen time calmly

In the moment, screen time releases feel-good hormones, and often young people are completely focused on what they are watching or doing online and tuned out of what's happening around them. Simply announcing “Time for screens off!” with your hand on the off button probably isn’t going to go down well. Those feel-good vibes will disappear pretty promptly!

Two things that work at our place are giving a five-minute warning before screens are turned off, and having a distracting and enjoyable activity (dishes or vacuuming probably not ideal here) ready for afterwards. If it's close to bedtime, investing some time into helping your child transition from screen to sleep is helpful. Maybe an evening stroll to unwind, a quick game of soccer to burn off energy, reading aloud or playing cards together, or gathering around the table for a cup of Milo, a biscuit and a chat before bed.

Figure out where your family values lie, then set the limits you want for your family. And apply them to yourself, too.

Screen time isn’t all bad – being digitally competent is part of growing up in today’s world and it’s certainly helped make holding down jobs and learning at home doable through a pandemic!

Trust your own instincts, weigh up the pros and cons and figure out where your family values lie, then set the limits you want for your family. And apply them to yourself, too.

Then, when all of that hard parenting work is done, sit down with a cuppa to enjoy that gripping show on Netflix you’re hooked on.

Holly Jean Brooker

Holly Jean Brooker

Holly Jean Brooker works as a PR Specialist, Writer and Presenter for Parenting Place. She is a mum of two, runs her own marketing consultancy business and has a background in high school education where she specialised in health and social sciences. Holly is co-founder of

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