two young sisters who have unlimited screen time playing a game together on a tablet

Inside: Are you tired of screen time battles and searching for an alternative? Unlimited screen time might be the solution you’re looking for. Understand the reasoning behind unlimited screen time, the benefits of not limiting screens and what you need to know before you commit to this unconventional parenting choice.

Screen time. My GOODNESS. The decision-making and daily agony negotiating screen time with 4+ kids used to cause me.

Especially as a work from home, homeschool family, we are home all day, most days. So it’s not even like there is the reprieve of school.

When you homeschool, screen time is an in-your-face dilemma every hour of every day. You have to figure out how you’re going to deal with it, and today’s parenting climate doesn’t make it any easier.

The fear, judgment and guilt around screen time in the parenting community at large is pretty toxic.

Trying to navigate the issue using conventional parenting methods, I tried several different methods for limiting screen time (although I steered clear of screen time tickets – don’t ask me why):

  • “No screens until 5 p.m.”
  • “One show when you wake up and mommy is waking up, then only one show choice each at night.”
  • “No limits on screen time on the weekend.”
  • “O.k. educational screen time during the day is fine…if it’s really educational.” (Cue: all the elaborate arguments on how their screen time of choice really is educational – they should really be lawyers when they grow up.)

All of these solutions were so very flawed. And all of them involved control: I had the power over whether or not those screens just sitting there got turned on or off.

All the while, I was using a couple different screens in the same room, right in front of them, for far more than their allotted 1-2 hours a day.

Call me crazy, but it all seems very hypocritical looking back at it. Plus, it was a constant drain on my parenting energy to enforce whatever rule was in place at the time, and I had very little energy left for any respectful parenting things, like connecting with my kids.

Finally, I’d had enough.

I had read about implementing unlimited screen time, mostly from unschoolers. They insisted it was a parenting choice worth considering.

So when we moved last summer during the middle of the insanity that was 2020, I knew it was the perfect time to really give it a decent, multiple months trial run (choosing a time when your mind is very occupied with other things is a good idea).

And now? I consider this my best parenting decision of 2020. It’s been almost a full year now, and I can’t believe we ever did it any other way.

In this post, I’m going to discuss:

  • The Underlying Beliefs that Motivate Parents to Limit Screen Time
  • 5 Major Benefits of Unlimited Screen Time
  • What You Need to Know Before You Commit
  • Ultimately, Your Children Will Learn About Unlimited Screen Time…from YOU

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kids watching tv for hours, parents not limiting screens

The Underlying Beliefs that Motivate Parents to Limit Screen Time in the First Place

New Article on Screen Time: Considering Not Limiting Screens? 7 Guiding Principles for Parents

I don’t have hard numbers, but I’d like to propose that the majority of the parenting world chooses to limit screen time in some form or fashion.

And whether they want to admit it or not, those parents probably judge parents who choose unlimited screen time, or at the very least, this decision isn’t seen in a positive light.

Why? There is an underlying belief that screen time is bad for children and an unproductive use of their time (we’re pretty big on productivity in our culture) and therefore, it needs to be controlled by adults and only given out in small doses if our kids are going to turn out o.k.

If you are going to try unlimited screen time, you’re going to need to question that premise: is screen time really inherently bad? Or more mildly, only good for entertainment? Will too much “rot your brains” like candy rots your teeth?

But adults use screens all day…are their brains rotting? Does it all of a sudden stop being bad for you when you hit a certain age? If so, at what arbitrary age?

But how much screen time is bad for you? Two hours? Three? Four? When does it become bad instead of a valid use of time?

Now, I will agree that if kids only used screens all day, every day, with no physical activity or social interaction, then yes, definitely BAD. If they don’t have time to do things they should be doing, like chores or homework (I homeschool, and am unschoolish, so we don’t do homework), also probably BAD. But that’s rarely the case for kids whose parents allow unlimited screen time.

Maybe you begrudgingly admit that it’s not entirely bad, but you might think that most screen time is a waste of time – unproductive. Well now you’re making a value judgment, and you’re definitely entitled to your own opinion.

Just like you might think spending money on hiring cleaning help is a waste of money, where I may see it as a valuable use of funds, we disagree because we don’t share the same values.

If we can start looking at these choices as differences – not right or wrong – then we’re getting somewhere.

What I’m trying to help you see is that all of these things are subjective. Once I decided to stop believing the old adage that screens will “rot your brains” and are a waste of time, I was open to start seeing the value my kids were getting from them.

And that is what made choosing unlimited screen time possible for our family long-term.

(Coincidentally I was also able to stop feeling guilty any time I decided to spend watching a show or using screens. I thought I should be spending that time productively, and rest or entertainment were a waste of time. It seems that those underlying beliefs that were apparently affecting more than just my parenting.)

You Might Also Like: Conventional Parenting Advice You Don’t Need to Follow (unless you want to)

Seeing Screens As Another Way to Consume Information – Not Inferior, just Different

The biggest perspective shift I had to make before transitioning to unlimited screen time was this: screens are simply another means of consuming information.

Shows are stories told over multiple episodes.

Youtube videos are information communicated similar to an audiobook, but with pictures and possibly a person speaking.

I love when my kids are using screens to watch Kahn Academy to learn something educational, but for some reason I feel edgy when it’s a show. I feel weird about my child sitting on the couch watching a show that tells a similar story as the book on the shelf.

But I wouldn’t think twice about my child sitting on the couch reading a book for hours (or listening to an audiobook).

That’s my own issue that I have to figure out – I need to work through why I feel weird or judge screens differently than reading.

Especially when it’s a personal thing…

Personally, I can’t stand getting information through videos or audiobooks. I’ve tried.

I will always prefer to read a blog post instead of watch a video communicating the same information (even in a world that increasingly seems to elevate video).

I like the written word.

My husband, on the other hand, loves TikTok and Youtube and audiobooks. He much prefers them to the written word. Whereas I’ll head to those things if something truly interests me or I have no other option.

Two of my kids adore audiobooks, while one hates them and reads only physical books. Neither one is “better”. They’re just a personal preference.

Screens are the same way – not better or worse than any other way to get information, just different.

Related: 5 Reasons Not to Do The 1000 Hours Outside Challenge

mom and daughter sitting close together looking at ipad

5 Benefits of Not Limiting Screens


1. You can save your parenting energy for other things.

Maybe I’m alone in this, but negotiating and regulating screentime took up a ridiculous amount of mental and emotional energy on my part.

Agonizing over whether or not to allow another show. Revaluating time limits AGAIN.

Deciding on whether a child could finish a video game because they were in the middle of a level, but then sibling A deserves 15 more minutes of whatever screens because sibling B got to finish his and….

You get the idea. It’s freaking exhausting. Then add on the guilt I felt whenever I didn’t stick to the time limits, or for some reason, they needed to watch extra T.V. because of some kind of crisis.

It was a complete waste of my finite energy. Because screens aren’t as big a deal as we make it, and I’d rather save my limited energy for other things like connecting with my kids.

Plus there’s the homeschooling, managing a house, working part-time, spending time with my husband.

Did I mention I’m an introvert? And my husband is, too?

If you’re an introvert, too, I highly recommend you consider this approach to screen-time. It’s a GAME-CHANGER.

Related: 10 Things I Stopped Doing that Made Me a Happier Mom

2. Children learn to self-regulate at an earlier age.

When you first remove screentime limits, this statement will seem ridiculous. I mean, they just want to watch screens

You can practically see their brains dissolving, their muscles atrophying before your eyes from sitting on their butts all day. It’s horrifying.

Naturally they want to use screens all day, every day.

Before you were the screen time police. Every minute was carefully tallied.

And now you’re saying to them, just kidding, that era is no more.

Of course they’re not stupid. They think you’re bluffing, so they will absolutely take full advantage of what in their minds is a temporary lapse in your parenting judgement.

Who knows? Tomorrow, the screentime police might change her/their mind, and restrictions might come back full force.

(Also, anytime something is made “scarce”, scarcity and hoarding mentalities kick in, making the thing that’s scarce increase in value, if only in the mind of the beholder. So restricting screens can make them look even more valuable to your kids. Idea Credit: Hannah at Adventure Travel Family)

It might take a month…or two or three for them to get the idea. You’re really serious. They have freedom to decide how much to watch and when to watch it, within reason, of course.

When they realize that, they will start to self-regulate*.

Just like eating too many sweets, they will start to intuitively know when they’ve had too many screens, and they will learn how to make good decisions for themselves.

They’ll say shocking things like, “I need to go outside and play for a while – I’ve had enough screen time for now.”

Because here’s the thing: your kids don’t really want to sit in front of screens all day. Really, they don’t. At least, not if they are offered a rich array of other options.

They will learn how much is too much for them, and they will choose other activities.

It takes some kids longer than others to get to this point, and some of them will, in the long run, choose screens more often than others, but they will make other choices eventually. Promise.

*Clarifying Thoughts: Some parents try unlimited screen time and find that their children do not self-regulate. I’m not sure how long they tried, or what their mindsets are around screens. I’m not in their families, and I don’t know their children. Your children might not self-regulate to a place you’re comfortable with. Maybe your gut is telling you to set an earlier cut-off than we do (we cut off at a certain time before bed). Find a place of compromise by listening to your intuition and your children.

3. Screens offer an abundance of learning opportunities, and you can stop wasting time separating shows and games into the extremely subjective categories “educational” and “non-educational”.

This is what’s truly amazing. Once you stop making value judgements around screens, you see how much there is to learn from them.

Even what we probably deem as “non-educational” shows – your kids are learning from them, and things you never even thought possible.

This month, my daughter started writing haikus because of My Little Pony. Yes, My.Little.Pony.

The kids come to me all the time with little tidbits of awesome learning they’ve picked up from things I personally see no value in and don’t understand why they love it.

But love it they do, and they are always learning. Always.

So actually everything is educational. Everything.

You start to realize how silly those categories actually are in the first place. You realize that they’re made up by adults, adults who like to judge and control children’s interests and time and well, their entire lives.

But as much as we like to have black and white, nice and neat categories, life isn’t often like that.

Life is learning. Once you see that, you can’t unsee it, and the reasoning behind arbitrary restrictions and regulations falls away.

4. Children are free to pursue their passions and interests, which may eventually lead to their career choice.

You cannot possibly know what is in store for your children or how technology will influence their career paths.

I currently have one child who is on a serious deep dive into all things astronomy. He’s watched pretty much every documentary Curiosity Stream has on the subject. And Disney+, too.

Another child watches My Little Pony all the time. Part of the time she practices drawing the different ponies, and applying different techniques to her other artwork.

She also works on learning different tunes from the shows on the piano, and writing haikus, which was the focus of one episode.

Another child is an extreme introvert and gets easily overwhelmed by the rest of the loud children in our family. He often retreats to his room to listen to audiobooks while building LEGOs or playing Nintendo Switch.

And then there’s the 5-year-old who genuinely enjoys doing anything his siblings are doing, so he joins in any kind of screen time everyone else is doing, when he’s not playing with the 2-year-old.

The 2-year-old? She spends a lot of time playing outside – every possible minute. When she watches screens, she’s like most 2-year-old’s and watches the same thing over and over for a month or two, then moves to the next thing.

Sometimes, she also attempts to play the games her siblings play, like Slice Fractions or Stack the States or Angry Birds.

Every child has a different reason for using screens.

To judge one child’s interest in astronomy documentaries as more educationally worth than another child’s interest in My Little Pony for story-telling, art-supporting, music-inspiring would be unfair and ridiculous.

5. You may be giving your children an overall advantage in life.

O.k., this one is probably going to put you on the defense if you’re reading it and are against unlimited screen time (and you can feel free to disagree with me), but hear me out.

Also note, you could probably accomplish this same goal even if you limit screentime in some way.

Boston College Psychology Professor Peter Gray, Ph.D. compares the computer in our day and age to the bow and arrow of tribal culture (read more in THIS book).

In tribal cultures to this day, children are allowed to play with things that Western parents would gasp at. Things like knives and bow and arrows. You know – dangerous stuff.

But if they didn’t learn how to use a bow and arrow, were constantly kept away from it and given only limited access to it until adulthood, they would be at a severe disadvantage for the rest of their lives.

Children who were given access to these things early on learned faster and were able to do things like, you know, feed themselves and provide for their families.

Gray argues that computers (and by extension, other screens) are the bow and arrow of modern life. And we put our children at a severe disadvantage by limiting access to them.

And then there’s THIS article revealing a new study that showed kids whose parents limit screen time do WORSE in college.

The researchers hypothesized, “Let me restate that more bluntly: parent who carefully control their kids’ tech use might have a more general tendency towards helicopter parenting, and once their kids get to college and experience a taste of freedom and responsibility, they can’t handle it. With no one looking over their shoulder, some kids can’t force themselves to put down their phones and study.”

Kids with strict screen time limits don’t know how to handle sudden unlimited freedom after living under a lifetime of strict rules and control (at home and at school, where you can’t even use the bathroom without permission).

It’s something to think about when you are trying to decide whether or not to implement strict screen time limits.

mom and dad playing video games with two kids, all sitting together on couch

What You Need to Know Before You Choose Unlimited Screen Time

Don’t just jump into this decision. I did that – I lasted two days before the control freak in me flipped out and slapped those screen time rules right back into place.

I couldn’t handle it because I still had a screens-are-evil-and-a-waste-of-time mindset. I had a lot more progress to make in my overall parenting paradigm before I could fully commit (and you do kind of need to make a long-term commitment to this idea, like six months or more).

Also, keep in mind that we homeschool. I’m not sure how well it works in families who choose school, but my friend Zina at Let’s Lasso the Moon takes the same approach and her kids are in school. Read her take on not limiting screen time HERE.

With those caveats out of the way, let’s dive into what you need to know before you choose unlimited screen time.

1. This parenting choice only really works in a collaborative, peaceful/gentle parenting paradigm.

No condemnation in this statement at all, but if your parenting philosophy/paradigm aligns with authoritarian or even the golden “authoritative” parenting model, unlimited screen time probably won’t work for you.

Why not?

Because authoritarian/authoritative parenting models don’t make room for trusting children or making room for them to learn to trust themselves. Even the traditionally praised authoritative parenting style, which often uses parent-created reward systems to elicit desired behavior may not do well with this idea.

Ultimately, both of these parenting styles put almost all the power in the hands of the parents. While they may not say it out loud, they don’t believe that children can be trusted to know things like when they’re full, when they are cold or hot, or what they need to learn now or aren’t ready to learn yet.

All I am saying in this book can be summed up in two words: Trust Children. Nothing could be more simple, or more difficult. Difficult because to trust children we must first learn to trust ourselves, and most of us were taught as children that we could not be trusted.

John Holt, How Children Learn

That perspective extends to screens.

This is a bigger discussion that is beyond the scope of this article, but essentially, if you err towards controlling the majority of your child’s day/life, you probably won’t do well with unlimited screen time.

Recovering control-freak here, authoritarian/authoritative parent here, so I totally get it.

I am on what feels like a life-long journey of learning a different way to parent, a different way to live with my children.

Want to Learn More about Peaceful/Gentle Parenting? Read Untigering by Iris Chen.

2. If this is going to work, you need to stop making value judgments about what your children choose to spend their time doing.

Woah, this is another doozy.

But first let’s get this out of the way before someone chimes in (which they very well might because let’s face it, we all skim articles these days and make comments accordingly), when I say this, I do NOT mean allowing your children to access inappropriate content if they so choose.

For the LOVE, make sure your children are not allowed unlimited access to Youtube and put controls on your internet browsers and teach internet safety.

Now that we got that out of the way, let’s get back to the original statement.

Here’s the deal: if you think screens are a waste of time, you’re going to automatically judge your children every time they choose screen time over any other activity (don’t you want to knit or practice piano or build something uber-creative with LEGO or do something, you know, productive with your time?).

Before you do this, you NEED to evaluate your own inner voice regarding screens, the pre-judgments you’ve made about things like video games or movies, because they will inevitably come across to your children. I also recommend thinking about how you view productivity versus rest.

Freedom and respect and honor regarding screen time doesn’t really work well when you have a negative attitude towards screens in general, or certain kinds of screens.

If you despise video games with a passion and think they are a complete waste of time, but one child is passionate about them, they will feel your intense dislike and judgment.

It’s fine not to love video games, but if you despise them or think they are a waste of time for everyone on the planet, that’s not going to work.

It will inevitably create constant conflict, and you will probably say a bunch of passive-aggressive things about screens being a waste of time (#beentheredonethat). And that’s not good for anybody.

You are going to need to work through and set aside your underlying judgments. Commit to observing and listening with genuine openness to learn why your children enjoy the games/shows they do.

Try playing a video game with your child, stepping into their world and trying to understand what they love about them.

Watch a show your child loves with the same goal in mind: understanding.

When you choose to evaluate and put aside your own judgements, you are free to figure out what your children love so much about the screens they use, and I think you’ll be more than a little surprised at what you find.

3. Screen time as a method for behavior control may lose it’s effectiveness.

I suppose you could still take screen time away for bad behavior, but again, I am working from a gentle parenting paradigm.

As tempting as it is, I do my best to avoid using arbitrary consequences like taking away privileges, especially when they have no connection to unwanted behavior.

Even when I threaten this, it’s always in a state of anger and desperation. After we both cool down, we are usually able to work things out and talk about why they were behaving the way they were.

Behavior always has a root.

When you prioritize connection, not obedience or behavior, the need for arbitrary rewards and punishments fades away.

4. You kids will go through a “binge period,” where it seems like they will only watch TV or play video games all day, every day forever and ever, amen. Trust me – it doesn’t last forever.

Your kids don’t want to watch screens all day. They’ll get bored and want to do other things.

But it will take a good long time for a couple reasons.

First, we’ve already gone over this – they are afraid you’ll change your mind. And can you blame them? A day in, and you’re probably already thinking about pulling the plug on this whole experiment.

Second, when something has been restricted and all of a sudden, it’s no longer restricted, the natural human response is binging.

It may take a month or two, or even three, for them to come back to a healthy balance. Even then, they may go through cycles of excessive screen use when they have a strong interest in a show or video game.

And aren’t we the same way?

We go through periods of time when we binge watch a show in our spare time because it’s just so good. When the show is over, we pick up an old hobby or speed through the latest fiction novel we’d been waiting for at the library.

But no one freaks out when kids read too much. Well, actually, they do. I’ve seen it in way too many Facebook groups, and I’m pretty sure my parents worried as a kid that I wasn’t socializing enough.

We parents worry about everything. Which brings me to my last point…

5. You need to commit to stop making parenting decisions out of fear.

A LOT of the hype around screen time is fear-based.

I’ve read many the articles and many books where parents are encouraged to limit screen time. Screen time has been flat out compared to using drugs.

Why? We’re scared our kids will get addicted, waste time, never become contributing members of society.

And for the record, just because pleasure centers light up in your child’s brain when they’re watching a show doesn’t mean they’re going to be addicts any more than you are. Because when YOU watch a show you love, I’m sure your pleasure centers light up, too.

It’s attributed to depression and eye strain and bad sleep. And all the evils in society (just kidding…kind of).

So many of the articles use the word “may”. Excessive screen time “may” contribute to this, and it “may” lead to that.

You know what that tells me? Researchers and pediatricians and parenting experts just.don’t.know.

They are going to give you the most conservative, conventional answer that fits their recommended authoritative parenting paradigm. And that paradigm dictates that kids’ environments need to be controlled by adults at all times (I’m not talking about safety, but arbitrary rules that mostly make adults/parents lives easier OR feel better).

Limit. Restrict. Control.

When you start to question that kids need to be controlled at all times – in their learning, their clothing, their environment, you will probably start to question screen time limits, too.

But I suppose this questioning is again, entirely dependent on your conclusion of whether or not more than one or two hours of screen time a day is harmful for children.

Related: 5 Really Good Reasons to Give Children Food Autonomy

mom holding iphone on her hands, sitting outside

Ultimately, Your Kids Will Learn How to Manage the Freedom of Unlimited Screen Time…From You

Many of us parents spend hours on screens every day – for work, for relaxation, for education, for managing life.

For just about everything.

I pay bills on my phone, use social media for work or myself, write blog posts, shop for household necessities, read books, listen to podcasts, order groceries, and more.

All of those activities require screens.

My husband works from home and is on the computer 8-9 hours a day. In his downtime, he enjoys watching Youtube videos with the kids after work, using Tiktok and listening to audiobooks.

Children aren’t going to be ordering groceries or “working”. But they will be playing, and play is often based on what they see adults doing. It’s how they learn.

My kids some days spend less time on screens now than we do, even with unlimited screen time.

If you want your kids to spend less time using screens, model balance in your own screen time habits, and invite (this is key – invite, not command) them into other activities like spending time outside, learning new hobbies and doing other things.

Finally, as with any change in parenting, give yourself grace and time to adjust. It takes time to change your mindset, to let go of control and to learn how to parent unconventionally in a very conventional world.

But I think you’ll find it’s absolutely worth the effort.

Read Next: Should Kids Do Chores? Consider This Simpler, Healthier Approach

Have more questions about unlimited screen time? Drop your questions in the comments, and I’ll do my best to answer them!

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  1. You seem like a great mom, and an intelligent person. I am a physician and I am deeply concerned about the national epidemic of pediatric mental illness, so I must strongly disagree with your position. I would not endorse this. Please read any of the latest scientific literature on this I have posted below, volumes of evidence are emerging about the perils of excessive screen time. While you have had a positive experience, you are in the minority from a rigorously scientific perspective. And parents are vulnerable to hearing this message, because we are tired and desperate, parenting in this absurd modern world. You are telling them something that sounds like a relief, but might lead to greater problems for them.

    As you can read from your own comments, people are not having an easy time with this. And furthermore, all of your qualifications sound laborious themselves. We have a 100% screen free home and that is far, far more low maintenance. I do not have to police my children on anything and I think this is the easiest route. They have never had screens and have no interest in them. It frees up a lot of mental clutter for all of us. And I don’t have to worry about nefarious forces such as predators or advertisers preying upon them.

    Again, you sound like a wonderful parent and a deeply thinking person. Please look at these recent articles before you endorse this position.

    1. Author

      First, I wanted to thank you so much for how you commented because I think it’s a model example of how to disagree on the internet! If only we all could respond online like this, the world would be a different place.

      Next, I hear where you’re coming from, I do. And I did read one of the articles I could access. I’ve read it before, and I’ve read all the arguments before. Some of them I disagree with, others I take the concerns to heart – especially regarding social media, one area where we do tread very carefully.

      I also respect your decision to not bring screens into your home at all. That is definitely an option, and it does eliminate the need to navigate this at all. But I don’t think that’s the answer for most families. Not having screens at all often means you have a strong support system to give parents a break, maybe a two-parent family, one parent possibly staying home full-time OR the ability to pay for excellent childcare or babysitting, no chronic parent health issues. I could go on. This is not the reality for many families, especially in the United States.

      I will acknowledge that our family is operating in a very different context than school families, and that does perhaps make a difference. Maybe this won’t work for the average family with kids in school. Your comment did make me realize that I needed to provide more guiding principles for parents, ones we’ve used ourselves on what “unlimited screen time” really looks like. So I did write this follow-up article for that reason, and I hope it helps.

      Finally, I always find it somewhat concerning when someone encourages me not to share experiences or endorse certain parenting choices or lifestyles that go against an institution’s advice.

      Occasionally, I’ll have teachers tell me that homeschooling is not good for kids, that it will negatively affect them. But there are countless more teachers pulling their own kids out to homeschool them (and often they turn to self-directed education, as we did). Do some children have a negative homeschooling experience? Yes. But the majority have a good experience.

      I was raised in borderline fundamentalist evangelical Christianity, and it definitely negatively affected my development in certain ways, but I’m betting doctors would never tell a family to stop taking their kids to church, and neither would I, despite my negative experience. All I can do is share my experience when I can.

      Every loving parent is doing the best they can to navigate a rapidly changing modern world. Unlimited screen time isn’t for everyone, but it is the answer for some, and this article is for that minority seeking a different answer. In the beginning, it helped me to read other’s experiences making this choice, and I won’t apologize for sharing.

      Have a great day!

      P.S. If you makes you feel better, only about 300 people read this a month. Don’t worry: I’m not starting a revolution over here. 😉

  2. we tried it and I believe this is not for everyone.
    my daughter would watch for 12, 13, 14 hours during the weekend and when she’d have to go back to school or go to sleep she’d have fits of anger and get very stressed and depressed. it looks like a true addiction. she’s 9. Her circadian rhythms are skewed and she is really unwell. she would wake up really early to be able to binge it in the weekend because during school days she can’t do that. she would go to sleep past midnight in order to watch more YouTube. nope, this is not for us.

    1. Author

      Thank you so much, Gina, for sharing your experience. Every parent needs to do what they need to do based on the results they’re seeing in their own homes. I have heard similar feedback before from others, and I definitely encourage any parent trying this to trust their gut (not your anxieties, but your gut). Especially if kids are in school, I can see where it may be problematic on a case by case basis. My kids are not in school, and they had a lot more time and space for that binge, trial and error period.

      One thing that I think makes it work for us (besides homeschooling/unschooling) is staying connected, honest discussions about choices and physical/mental health. Discussing algorithms and the goal of any social media or streaming service: to keep you on their platform, and how there will always be MORE content.

      My #1 goal is to stay connected to my kids, which means I do my best to stay curious instead of judgmental/fearful, letting them learn and make mistakes in the safety of our home (within reason of course). Especially as they approach the tween and teen years, giving autonomy and letting them figure out things like screens and sleep at different ages depending on the age they start questioning or asking for that freedom.

      We give a lot of trust to our kids (and you very well may do the same and still need to pull back and reset some limits). We love setting limits collaboratively, explaining what we’ve seen as parents, asking for their input, and coming up with limits we can both live with.

      Wishing you the best as you continue to navigate screens!

  3. This article really is very helpful – thank you so much! We tried completely unlimited screen time (moving from almost-unlimited) for most of June and July and my very young children went to bed after midnight every night without fail – they would fight their sleep to continue watching. I also ended up with very little sleep as a result.

    Do you think that a pre-bedtime cutoff helps avoid the scarcity mindset, or do you think it may encourage even more tv-watching during the day?

    1. Author

      So with my younger kids, we do have a screen time cut-off before bed. It’s less focused on “time to be done with screens”, but “time to read books and take baths and get snacks”. They genuinely love our bedtime routine, so it’s not a big deal. And if you are the one managing bedtime you need your sleep! I’m all about negotiating freedom that respects everyone’s needs in a family. You could say something like, “Mommy/daddy needs to go to sleep at this time in order to be the best mommy/daddy, so screens need to go off at this time or this time. Which one would you like?” Make sure BOTH choices are ok with you.

      As my older kids have grown out of bedtime routines with me, we’ve negotiated screen freedoms based on their personalities/needs.

      Hope this helps!

  4. I enjoyed reading this as I have limited and controlled screen time for over a decade now and have finally hit a breaking point. It has become exhausting and stressful with a preteen who has ODD. She loves tik tok and YouTube which you mention limiting but these are her preferred sources and limiting them causes intense friction. Thoughts?

    1. Author

      So Youtube is complicated. I’ve realized I cannot possibly supervise all screen time. We have a rule that you need to generally stick to subscribe accounts only, and I need to approve new subscriptions. Youtube shorts have been giving me grief, so I try to give general rules (if you hear this, this or this, scroll on). In general, it’s kid by kid, and I do my best to lean towards trust, instead of fear. Most of my kids know what’s appropriate and not and scroll on. Sorry I can’t be of more help! Navigating this stuff is tough.

  5. Hey this is the best post i’ve read on this subject of screen time. So we have always limited screen time, but now we’re unschooling and trying to be more relaxed.

    We tried going for it but like you, 2 days in we cancelled the operation as they were just watching all day and then a bit zombified by evening.

    Any tips for making that transition easier? We were thinking of maybe going unlimited one day a week to start and see how we get on. It is more to ease us parents in rather than the kids? It’s hard to go from control to freedom.

    1. Author

      Yeah, I cancelled two days in the first time I tried it. I just couldn’t handle it then.

      My advice would be: be honest with your kids. I’m not sure how old they are, but if they are older than 6ish, you can tell them a version of “Hey, mom and dad are trying to figure this whole screens thing out. It’s scary for us because of some things we read/hear on the internet. This is all new compared to what we experienced growing up. Please be patient as we figure out what we think is best for our family.”

      A whole lot of back and forth will probably be difficult for them, and it will make the next unlimited screen time binge last longer (because they know you’ve pulled the plug in the past, and they better get all the screen time they can before you pull it again). So I would really think about how you want to approach it before you try again.

      You could try a gradual approach. We do have a screens off time at night, and I know a lot of families this works well for, and it varies based on age. Our oldest three have more time. I use nighttime to spend with my youngest with 1:1 reading and projects/games, so theirs gets cut off earlier (but its more of a “can you turn screens off it’s time to do our special thing”, and there is always 10 minute leeway to finish up what they’re doing).

      Our cut-off is probably later than most, and we did wrestle with having one for a while. Personally, we landed on the side of “you need sleep, and there is so much content out there now, you could watch all night and not be done”. Also, when we tried not having a cut-off, it started interfering with me and my husband’s sleep, so to honor the needs of everyone, we now have a cut-off.

      You could start with an earlier cut-off? Maybe 2-3 hours before bed? Also establish some guidelines that matter to you – hey, every day we do family dinner with no screens or, we go to the park every day at this time. But expect them to prioritize screens for a while as opposed to other activities. Have something to occupy your mind during that time! Otherwise, you’ll probably spend it worried about what they’re doing (or not doing).

      Finally, I’ve seen a lot of discussion around this on social media, and I realize that this is a very personal issue: you need to figure out guidelines that work best for your family. Work through your anxiety, and come up with an approach that honors everyone. Discuss, wrestle, deschool some more. Good luck! 🙂

  6. Thanks so much for sharing this! I love your heart for parenting from a place of connection and understanding.
    We too have been through ALL the approaches to screens, from a time when I wanted to get rid of our TV completely, to the 2-hours-per-day limit, to unlimited now. I really wish I had had this wisdom because I have wasted many many parenting moments with passive-aggressiveness about some of my kids’ favorite activities. And I KNOW they learn so much from technology, and yet it’s hard to give up that control.
    I have noticed that when the kids have a screen-heavy day, it’s often a day when I myself am busy on my phone, checked-out, or tired. It’s so true that they respond to how we use tech!
    I’d love to hear how, as a large family, you deal with 1) sharing devices and 2) keeping to other family routines like homeschool, mealtimes, bedtime, etc. without arbitrarily limiting screen time. These are the last holdouts for screen peace in our house 😊 With four kids, I feel like there is often a sense of not being able to access a certain device when inspiration strikes, which serves as a kind of limit that keeps the value of those devices artificially high, if that makes sense. Thanks!

    1. Author

      Thanks so much Heather! I’ll do my best to answer your questions:

      1) We bought a new iPad this year as an educational investment since our old iPad was not compatible with many of the educational apps we wanted to use. So, we have an iPad, a TV with an apple TV connected, the old iPad which is just used for audiobooks (will probably eventually replace with something simple just for audiobook use), an old iphone that my daughter uses for audiobooks and some simple games, and we have an additional smart TV in our bedroom, which I was resistant too, but now realize it just makes sense with our family size. Oh, and a Nintendo Switch. So basically we have several devices for various purposes. The kids still fight occasionally, most over the new iPad, but we usually say they can use it as long as they like unless someone else wants it and then, they need to negotiate a time or I’ll help decide a time. It’s more of a negotiation, where I suggest a time frame – could you be done in 20 minutes? 15? Then we come to a mutual agreement, or they offer to trade.

      2) With bedtime, we usually have a screens off except for audiobooks at some random time that ends up being 45 minutes before bed. My oldest has insomnia, so she does her best to keep off screens, but if it’s really bad and making her anxious, she’ll watch something, but overall she is aware of why we ask screens to go off when we do and she does her best to read books or listen to an audiobook while trying to fall asleep.

      With meals, we maybe do meals all together 3 nights a week and lunch together 3ish days a week? Maybe it’s because we don’t do every meal together, we haven’t encountered much resistance to a request for no screens during these times? Honestly, I was a read at lunch instead of talk to people kind of person in school and at work (introvert much?). My husband is the same way, and we are obviously together all.the.time, so we get that this many people around a table can be overwhelming when it happens too often.

      As for homeschool, I don’t often encounter resistance to doing things we do regularly – they want to do them as much as I do. I read aloud every day with the two that are able to handle read-aloud books (one doesn’t do well with audio and prefers to read on his own). We do poetry tea time once a week with some readings. We play board games together. I work one-on-one with the kids for the rest of our stuff, and again, it’s interest-led so I haven’t encountered much of a problem. If they are needing to finish up a game or show, they tell me they can be ready in 10 minutes, and I use the time to finish up what I’m working on. Basically our homeschool day is VERY flexible with a couple of things we do every day, but not always at the same time of day.

      I hope this helps!

      1. Thank you, that is SUPER helpful! Asking them if they can be done within a certain amount of time – that’s revolutionary 😆 We have two okay-ish laptops and a can’t-handle-very-much tablet, so the laptops are always a hot commodity, especially as the kids have gotten older and want to play games together (which I LOVE but arranging turns in a way that works for everybody is difficult!).
        Also revolutionary is not always getting everyone together for every meal or for every homeschool activity. My husband and I are both introverts as well, he a highly-sensitive person as well, so it does often feel better to have separate dinners. I love that you do things in a way that works for your own unique family!

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