Screen Time Limits
Too often parents and Au pairs take responsibility for their kids’ screen-free time by structuring activities for them. They think that if kids are upset or bored without electronic entertainment, they must provide another activity for them to do. But this is just another form of rescuing. When parents are quick to step in with activities to distract kids from boredom or anger about not having their screens, they inadvertently rob children of the opportunity to develop problem solving skills and resilience.
Turning off the TV is a challenge for many kids and families. Have faith in them to
work through this “suffering” to feel more capable in managing their time. When you
have faith in your children to handle their feelings, they will learn to have faith in themselves, too. It is important that parents do not make children suffer, but sometimes it is most helpful to “allow” them to suffer with support.
Parents and Au pairs in Australia too often (in the name of love) want to protect their children from struggle.
They don’t realize that their children need to struggle, to deal with disappointment, and to solve their own problems so they can develop their emotional muscles and the skills necessary for the even bigger struggles they will encounter throughout their lives.
When allowing children to suffer…
1. Express empathy. “You are really angry about not being able to play your video
game right now. I understand.”
2. Avoid lectures.
3. Do not rescue. It’s OK to feel upset.
4. Let them know you have faith in them to figure out what to do.
When a child “suffers” because she can’t watch the show she wants, allowing her to
endure this experience can help her develop her resiliency muscles. She learns that she
can survive the ups and downs of life, as well as the decision of what to do with her
time when there are no screens to watch.
The support parents and Au pairs can offer is to validate her feelings, but avoid solving the ultimate problem of what to do instead. Say, “I can see this is very upsetting to you. It can be disappointing when we don’t get what we want.” Period. Some parents overdo validating feelings; they go on and on with the hope that validating feelings will take away the suffering.
Validate a child’s feelings and then allow her to recover from those feelings. Then comes
the tough part— no rescuing and no lectures.
Simply have faith that she can get over her disappointment and figure out what she
can do with herself. Children will learn to get past the disappointment of reduced screen time, and they will be able to develop their imagination and creativity in solving the problem of, “What should I do?” Parents and Au pairs just need to provide an atmosphere of loving support that does not include “bawling them out” (lecturing on how many other toys, games, crafts, and activities there are available to do), and “bailing them out” (fixing their boredom by providing a new activity). Have faith in your children; they will grow stronger for it.
Decide What You Will Do
You have set a limit on screen time with kindness and firmness. You have faith in
your children to handle their unhappy feelings about the limit. Now comes the part where you must decide what you will do. Rather than rescuing a child from solving their problem of, “Now what can I do?” when the screens are turned off, have faith
in them to work it out themselves. Since this usually takes time, it is helpful for you
to decide what to do that does not include lectures or rescue in the presence of their
• “No TV until after homework is done. I will be in the kitchen making dinner.
Anyone is welcome to come work in there with me.”
• “You may watch a half-hour of TV. You can turn it off when the time is up, or I
• “Everyone must turn their phones off during dinner. I will put mine away and
meet you at the table.”
• “We’re not going to play video games today. I am going for a bike ride and
would love for you to join me.”
• “We have discussed the responsibilities that go along with the privileges of
having electronic equipment. When you don’t keep our agreements for the
responsibilities, I will confiscate the equipment until you are ready to try
• “I know you are disappointed and I’m going to give you a big hug; so you’d
better run if you don’t want one.”
Stating what you will do allows children to decide what they will do in the face of a
limit that has been set. You are communicating, “I decided what I will do; what will
you do?” They may continue to cry, complain, and have difficult feelings about the
limit, and that’s OK. They may simply need more time to express and recover from their
disappointment. By deciding what you will do, you are providing an example, while
ultimately turning the decision over to the child.