Dec 25, 2023
I’ll be the first to say there is no one-size-fits-all solution to screentime. After all, not every family is the same. But in my experience, the families who find the healthiest balance with screen use often have several characteristics in common.
If you’ve been following my work for a while, you will know that becoming “Tech-Intentional™” forms the basis of my philosophy and approach. I am not “anti-tech” – I am Tech-Intentional™.
This is how I define “Tech-Intentional™”:
Being Tech-Intentional™ means only using screen-based technology that enhances, nurtures, and supports yourself, your child, or your family in a way that aligns with your values, and resisting, delaying, or limiting screen use that interferes with healthy mental, physical, cognitive, and emotional development.
The TL;DR can be summarized like this: “Less is more, later is better, relationships first.”
Here is a list of three habits that Tech-Intentional™ families tend to focus on:
Habit #1: Trust the Concept of “Good Enough”
Much of our parenting journey is wondering if we are doing things right. We second-guess ourselves or compare our choices with those of other parents who seem to have it all together. It’s difficult to internalize that all parents experience uncertainty and every child presents different challenges.
When we focus too much on being right, we lose sight of the value of being “good enough.”
If we are overachievers or perfectionists (Hi! Me!), what we miss in trying to achieve perfection is the value of the process.
For example, we didn’t learn to ride a bike on the first try. We had to fall, get up, and try again. As new parents, we often floundered in those first months or even years after bringing our babies home; we had to learn how to diaper, feed, sleep-train, and potty-train our infants and toddlers, and we didn’t do it right every time (and it was rarely stress-free).
Similarly, as parents of older kids, we now must learn to navigate a world saturated in screentime, and being good enough means making mistakes in front of our children and showing them how we walk through fixing them. Normalize missteps. They are teachable moments! When we live our lives out loud (read more about what it is and how to do it here), we narrate our mistakes and problem-solving steps.
We are definitely not going to get it right each time. It’s challenging, but we need to keep trying. Families who find success managing screentime in their household understand and live the adage that “perfect is the enemy of good”—meaning that pursuing the ideal has diminishing returns, gets in the way of doing good work, and does not achieve harmony. These families know that things will never be perfect, and they are okay with accepting that good enough is still good.
Habit #2: Take Baby Steps
After a stressful argument or teen tantrum, parents rush to write a screentime contract, define device rules, and limit tech use—only to find that after three days of earnest effort, it all falls apart.
If this sounds like you, you are not alone.
The “cold turkey” approach doesn’t work because when we try to define all the rules all at once, we end up with a 20-page document that is impossible to maintain.
Think about it:
How often do you read the terms and conditions pages when downloading a new app?
Nobody does (though we probably should).
Well-intentioned family screentime contracts are long, complicated, and hard to remember. They’re not developmentally appropriate either. Without reminders, many children forget to put their lunches in their backpacks or grab their soccer uniforms on their way out the door. A long list of screentime rules isn’t going to stick either – especially if the children weren’t included when creating it.
To find success limiting screentime in our households, we have to start small. When we try to change everything all at once, it doesn’t work. But when we pick one small thing to change first, we are much more likely to have success.
For our adult screen use, this might look like turning off the notifications on our own devices, charging our phones at night in a room other than the bedroom, or committing to a device-free meal once a week. With both screentime itself and trying to manage screentime, less is more, and change happens in small, incremental steps. Not massive overhauls.
In other words, baby steps.
Habit #3: Uphold Your Family Values
Children rebel against rules because they don’t understand them.
This is logical.
When something makes sense, it’s easier to go along with.
When it’s confusing or complicated, we’re more hesitant or resistant.
So when we ground our parenting in our values, our rules about media use are much more easily identified and enforced because they make sense.
When it comes to screentime, identifying the values we have as a family can help us define rules about device use that will be easy to understand and, therefore, easy to enforce. If you’re still unsure of your family’s values, start with your nonnegotiables—the customs or routines your family already has—and work backward.
For more strategies and a guide to discovering and applying your family values, check out my book.