5 Reasons Why Dropping Screentime Boundaries Changed Our Lives

parenting screens teens Oct 29, 2023

#1: The battles stopped.

An intensely adversarial part of our relationship disappeared. It was no longer my job to enforce a limit that my child fought tooth and nail. I said, "I will not force you. I will trust you. You get to choose when and how you use your screen." This simple statement rippled outward, increasing my child's capacity to be trusted (and my capacity to see their trustworthiness), day by day. Our relationship shifted from me-versus-you to a new "us." Together we would find the best ways to navigate this tool.

#2: Sneaking turned to communicating.

Even when we were not outright battling, my kids would steal my phone, hide in a closet, and sneak extra screen time. They would tease each other ("all you want is screentime!"). As though the things they loved were bad, wrong, and shameful. As we shifted our dynamic, we brought these loves out into the open so we could talk about it. "You love this so much! It's really hard to stop the things we love." Lying shifted to talking. Sneaking shifted to sharing.

#3: We became a more discerning team.

Our screentime boundaries communicated that screens were something scary, bad, dangerous, and that we needed to limit it. When we dropped them, we became a more discerning team, noticing that screens were often very regulating and calming when we were overwhelmed, but also that we could get stuck there when our bodies needed more movement and variety. Together, we could notice how we felt and what we needed.

#4: Scarcity evaporated.

When screens were limited to certain times of day, they were hyper-focused on maximizing those times. There was never enough, so it became the most prized part of their day. When we let it go and they could have more than enough, day after day, this scarcity mindset shifted. Other elements of the day became the most prized -- the warm afternoons, the moments when friends came over, the time with my spouse before he went to work. Screens were limitless, and thus less powerful. Other priorities had room to influence my children.

#5: We found peace.

I did my own work on the fears and projections that caused me anxiety around screens. I read the established negative research and read the evolving counter responses for neurodivergent children in particular. I surrounded myself with positive examples of screen autonomy, so that I could see it modeled without fear. I stayed focused on building trust and shedding shame, so that I was grounded in what mattered most. And day by day, we found peace. Screen battles and angst became things of the past.

The Takeaway

Creating a culture of screen autonomy in our home was a crucial piece of establishing trust and a healthy low demand culture for our family. When my kids saw that I truly supported their passions, that I meant it when I said I was done forcing them to stop, their trust in me grew by leaps and bounds. It was a daily reminder that the old way was over. We were embracing a new way together, based on trust, and partnership. I would no longer wield my power over them. They saw this difference, and our relationship transformed quickly and completely.

Screen time can wield considerable power over a parent-child relationship, creating destructive relational patterns for both parents and children. Some families find peace with establishing boundaries that sit well and feel good to all parties. We were not that family.

In a sea of advice about screens that leads some of us to feel intense shame for how we are handling it, I want this post to be a reminder that beautiful things can come from letting go of the battles. From choosing another priority instead of limiting screens at all costs.

For us, the cost of limiting them was far higher than the cost of giving full autonomy to my kids. For us, the benefits of screen autonomy far outweigh the costs.

It can be so difficult to navigate screen time questions in our current cultural climate, where parent shaming is rampant. Let's respect each other's choices and struggles and questions here. Let's honor that everyone does their best to land on the right balance for their particular family.

The point is not to get it all right. It's to prioritize the relationship and the family culture that matters most to you. And then to pursue that bravely, even if it means stepping off the mainstream parenting path. Even if it means doing things differently than your peers.

Dropping screen time boundaries and embracing full screen autonomy has been an essential step toward creating a beautiful, trusting relationship with my children.

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