How to Find the Right Balance of Screen Time for Kids

It’s tough to decide how much screen time for kids is appropriate. Northern Michigan parents share their tips, ideas and struggles.

We’ve all read and heard about the studies touting the dangers of too much screen time. However, sometimes it’s necessary to use screens for homework or as a tool to keep kids occupied while parents get tasks done. Plus, with advancements in technology, we know screens will be a part of our kids’ everyday lives as they get older. Overall, it comes down to finding a balance between what is too much screen time and what is an appropriate amount. How to balance screen time for kids (and quite frankly ourselves as parents) can be tricky. But it can also be fun!

We chatted with two Northern Michigan parents about what screen time looks like in their households, and how they find that balance.

Harry Burkholder, COO of Traverse City Downtown Development Authority and father to three kiddos (ages 7, 9, and 11), lends us his family’s screen time experiences–plus some tips on how to find balance.

How do you decide how much screen time is appropriate for your family?

We use a general rule of thumb, about two to three hours. However, it can be hard to keep track when three kids are sharing one device–especially if one kid is “looking” at the screen the other kid is playing with.

As parents, do you follow the screen time rules for yourselves?
We don’t really have screen rules for ourselves. The biggest rule we have for us is no phones at the dinner table.

Is there anything specific your family does to limit screen time routinely?
Yes—no screens in the morning before school (they can on weekends), no screens in their room before bed, no screens at the dinner table and no screens when we go out to eat. In addition, we will not purchase any type of gaming system.

What are your tips for balancing screen time?
It’s a struggle because they are so ubiquitous. And, frankly, they serve as a babysitter when you need to run an errand or just get things done around the house. We really work on getting our kids outside as much as possible.

Just do the best you can, more than likely you will feel like you’re not doing a good enough job, but you do your best.

Read Next: Healthy Activities to Reduce Screen Time for Kids and Adults

Carolyn Telgard is a Leland-based realtor with Coldwell Banker Schmidt. In their house, home to a 4-year-old and 6-year-old, their quantity of screen time looks different every single day. But the quality is consistent. Here’s how they balance screen time in their household.

How do you decide how much screen time is appropriate for your family? By the hour?
Screen time in our house is not really regulated in that way. We don’t have any hard and fast rules that limit TV time or games on devices. But that’s not to say that our family screen time is unlimited.

Screen time in our household is considered a treat. It is not a daily priority, but every day is different! Screen time activities often depend on what else is going on in our lives. What’s the weather like? Can the kids play outside instead? Or, what’s my work schedule for the day? Do I need more time? I work in real estate which means that my work hours are all day, every day. I’m also the primary caregiver for my kids. So obviously there are days when work and family time overlap. If I need an hour of peace and quiet to jump on a conference call or write up an offer, I’ve been known to let some PBS programming do a little quick baby-sitting.

Recognizing that sometimes screens are a necessary tool for homework, do you differentiate between “homework screen time” for school papers and “down-time screen time”?
Our kiddos are still pretty young, so at present, they’re not required to engage in “homework screen time.” Still, we do try to encourage our kids to engage in educational screen time, on occasion. For example, they really enjoy watching educational programming like BBC’s Our Planet, or basically anything narrated by David Attenborough!

As parents, do you follow the screen time rules for yourselves? Was that hard after having kids or just natural, since more time is now focused on the kids?
My husband and I are not gamers and we tend to use social media for work…for the most part. So our screen time is fairly limited. But we both definitely rely on television programming and movie time to help us relax at the end of a long day; particularly after the kids go to sleep. I think we both appreciate the need to ‘turn off our brains’ a little bit, and get lost in a TV adventure. But we don’t leave the TV on in the background while we’re doing other things. If we watch something, it’s intentional and we’re tuned in.

Generally, I think we watch as much TV now with kids as we did before our children were born. Our choices in programming have definitely changed, we love sharing classic childhood movies and seasonal TV specials with our little people. The Grinch, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown … Amirite?! Family movie time brings us a lot of joy.

Is there anything specific your family does to limit screen time routinely?
Well, we do try to limit screen time on a regular basis. But we’re pretty casual about it. We don’t exactly have a set schedule, nor do we have a specific limit to our allowable screen time. But we do try to limit screen time when we are together. So anytime we’re with family in the mornings, evenings and weekends. We do not allow screen time during meals. In particular, dinner time is our family bonding time—and devices are OUT. Very occasionally, we’ll do a pizza picnic in the living room while we watch a family-friendly movie. That’s always a treat for us all!

Our kids do not have their own devices or computers, and we only have one television. I think that’s how we best limit screen time. We just don’t have a lot of screens!

Have any tips, advice, or thoughts on screens and how they’re being used by families today?
Obviously I’m no expert here, but I think our strategy is to try to be balanced—all things in moderation, you know? Both my husband and I recognize the usefulness of screens and devices—particularly as our kids get older and as technology is more and more integrated into our society and daily lives. We’d never manage to eliminate screen time altogether (nor should we, I think). So we just try to be responsible and above all else, we aim to be 100% aware of what our kids are watching or doing when they are using screen devices.


Read Next: Q&A with Traverse City Behavioral Health Specialist Mandy Remai