1. Calmly explain why limiting screen time is important.
Reasoning with your child can be a challenge, especially when you’re prying her away from a beloved device. It helps to offer explanations beyond “because I said so.” Brown Braun suggests trying something more concrete like, “You need to help your body to grow by getting some exercise outside,” or “It’s time to use another part of your brain.” You can also emphasize the importance of moderation, comparing screen use to, say, eating candy. Just because children love candy, it doesn't mean they can eat it all the time. To best emphasize your message (and not the emotions behind it), Brown Braun suggests speaking in “an even, emotionless tone of voice.”
2. Work with your child to establish a plan.
It’s easier to be consistent about limiting your child’s summer screen use when you have clear rules in place. But don’t decide them in a vacuum. “The more you plan with your child, the more he will buy into it,” Brown Braun explains. And if more than one parent is in the picture, you should both be on the same page about screen rules.
Your summer screen plan can be more than just agreeing to certain time limits. You could, for instance, require that your child complete his usual chores before he can play his video games. You could also give him the opportunity to earn more screen time by completing major tasks ― weeding the garden, for example ― that go above and beyond his usual chores.
3. Have alternatives ready.
Coming up with device-free activities at the spur of the moment can be hard, so try preparing ahead of time. If your child likes arts and crafts, have various supplies like watercolor paints or glue on hand. The same goes for sports: Set up a basketball hoop, soccer net or whatever else you know will get your child moving. With younger kids, cycle through toys you already have. “If you put away a few toys for ‘a rainy day,’ then you can bring them out at these very times,” she says.
Want to get your child out of the house? Check your local library, community center and various religious organizations ― many offer families low-cost or free summer activities.
4. Designate screen-free zones.
Set rules regarding where and when your child can use devices. Many experts, including Brown Braun, recommend banning them at meal times, for instance, because screen use can disrupt family bonding. The bedroom is also a popular device-free spot, since staring at a bright screen can prevent kids from getting a good night’s rest. (To help them get a good night’s sleep, Dr. James suggests powering down at least an hour before bedtime.)
When your child is allowed to use screens, encourage her to do it where you’ll be around to monitor her activities ― in the kitchen while you’re washing the dishes, for example. This helps ensure she’s not visiting inappropriate websites or logging into violent games.
5. Model good device behavior.
Want your child to spend less time on her device? Cut down on your own screen time in her presence. Otherwise, says Brown Braun, “it’s like saying, ‘Smoking is bad for you’ and holding a cigarette.” Some families engage in screen-free weekends; others require everyone to put their smartphones in a basket near the front door when they come home. “Yes, there may be protest,” she adds, “but that should be your family rule, just like you have other family rules.”
6. Be firm and dole out logical consequences when necessary.
There’s a good chance your child will try to convince you to make exceptions to your screen time rules. Don’t budge. The minute you soften your stance, your child will remember that instance and be more emboldened to try to convince you to bend the rules again.
And don’t be afraid to penalize rule-breaking by limiting screen time more. “You can say, ‘Every time you ask for more screen time, we're going to take five minutes off your time the next day,’” says Brown Braun. “What we're trying to do is have logical consequences that make the child realize that this is happening because of him, not because of you.”