Family Screen Agreement

Dr. Alice Benton has written a practical and important blog for parents dealing with kids’ screen time use during summer. Alice is not only an insightful counselor but a wonderful mother to her young kids.

Family Screen Agreement

Are you beginning to dread the interminable summer hours filled with endless repetitions of, “Can I play video games?” “Can I watch a show?” With a little bit of planning and proactive conversations we can reclaim our parental digital authority and transform that apprehension into confident, productive screen leveraging. Allowing our children to earn a moderate amount of screen time, and engaging with them on screen and online is an investment in their digital future and in our current relationship with them. It also helps prevent screen addiction.

In advance of summer vacation, invite your family into a screen agreement conversation letting them know: “Your father and I want you to have a fun summer with a good amount of screen time. You’ll be welcome to regular screen time while you keep a good attitude and stay on top of your chores. And we want to join you on screen and online. We invite your opinion about how much screen time you want per day and what you think you should do to earn it.” Calmly expect and receive their resistance and outrageous suggestions. Low ball them, suggesting an amount of time below what you are willing to accept and tasks more difficult than you normally ask of them. And then work towards a compromise to which both parties can generally agree. Allow your children’s opinions to influence but not dictate your final decisions.

My husband and I gave this conversation a test run about a month before school will end. To our surprise, our children requested only an hour of screen time per school day. We didn’t even have to haggle the amount as it was actually below our family standard of 2 hours per day. I cannot explain that one… So, today after school, we reminded them that they’ll be welcome to an hour of gaming after playing with us at the park, cleaning the bathroom, tidying their rooms, sweeping the hallway, and practicing our Bible memory verse. Which just so happens to be, “Do everything without grumbling or complaining” (Philippians 2:14). It is an ideal for which we are striving, not a standard by which we are currently able to operate.

Presently, the bathroom is sparkling and the kids are happily gaming as I type. Our agreement and our leveraging worked! We have been living this philosophy for several years now and we can vouch for its efficacy. We will do our best to abide by our current screen agreement for the remaining weeks of school and we’ll discuss a new agreement for vacation. These family screen plans should be flexible and regularly updated depending on the needs of your household. They are a guide, not a mandate.

If you have never attempted to leverage your children’s access to screens, brace yourself for a potentially rocky start. But if you can remain kind, firm, and consistent your children will become accustomed to the idea that screens are a privilege to be earned, not a right to be demanded.

Screens are one of the most motivating commodities in the lives of our children. Harness that power by linking their screen access to good behavior and a positive attitude. Ask to join them on screen from time to time for relational connection. And enjoy the benefits of a healthier approach to Digital Parenting.

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Dr. Alice Benton, PsyD.

Dr. Alice Benton received her Doctorate of Clinical Psychology from Argosy University and her Bachelor’s degree from the University of St. Thomas. However, she credits New Life Ministries with the bulk of her true education. She is a licensed clinical psychologist, specializing in Parent Support & Training, Health & Wellness, and Trauma Recovery. She is a proud member of the New Life Ministries team serving as a cohost on the New Life Live! radio show with Steve Arterburn. She is a wife and mother of three young children. These days, when she has time to herself, she loves to kayak, stand-up paddleboard, hike, bike, read, and nap. Mostly nap…

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