+41 78 735 04 24 izumi@ipositivelinc.com

Screens In The Family – How to set clear rules

by Mar 25, 2022Parents, Positive Discipline, Workshops Positive Discipline

Decide what you will do and stick to it

I spoke about this topic for a podcast in French, and I vividly recall how it all started for me. My pre-teen son was claiming a smartphone for years, and I had to consent when he was 12.

I bought a pre-paid smartphone at the local supermarket at Christmas and wrapped it up nicely. On D-day, he opened his gift box, but I heard a long wail of dismay instead of a cry of joy. ‘Mummmmeeeeh! It’s not an iPhone! What is THIS? I can’t use this! This is not what I wanted! All my friends have an iPhone, and I get this!’. (followed by another long wail of distress, you get the picture.)

‘What are you complaining about? Ok, right. It’s an excellent smartphone, and it’s exactly what you need at your age! When you’ve practised using it and learned how to manage it properly, I will get you the model you want next Christmas.’ was my tight-lipped response.

Although his reaction made me miserable and disappointed, I held my ground.  This was not easy – like all mothers, I want my child to be happy, and my first reaction was to fix it by getting him another one…  (no, I didn’t).

What happened a few months later reassured me, however. His father, living abroad, called me one day saying he received a bill for a few thousand francs from some game my son played with his phone!

After cooling down (we were all upset), we discussed what happened and how to fix it. Fortunately, the phone company took into account that it was a child and thus refunded the amount, and from that day, my son stopped complaining about his pre-paid smartphone.

So, what did we learn here?

  1. It takes practice to use a new tool. Define agreements together during a family meeting (see below to know more about it) on how to use it and apply it to the whole family. We are in it together.
  2. Don’t give in to your child’s frustration, even if you think your child hates you. They don’t. You are the parent, and it is your job to educate. Decide what you will do and stick to it.
  3. Mothers are usually right. Hah. (Never say this or the ‘I told you so.’)

By the way, my son did get a new smartphone the following Christmas, as there was no further incident.

Managing Excess and Content

Indeed, although screens are generally used to provide well-being, freedom and pleasure, it can generate numerous physical, psychological and social disorders if used excessively, likewise for adults. We are in the same boat.

I felt at times that I could no longer control screen time and content, and my son and I went into a long battle of negotiation and fights. As a Positive Discipline trainer, I noticed I was not alone in this, with parents sharing during my workshops that the conflicts and stress caused by managing screens within the family are constant.

I am concerned about the risks of excessive screen exposure and worried as my son grows into a typical teenager – moody, private and rebellious – only on his bad days – of course…

Fortunately, there are solutions to try, and I’ll share a few Positive Discipline Tools (PD tools) I used here. Now, this is a long-term process, as we are not into quick fixes. It is essential to remember that success is not based on results but on the process of improvement.  The only way to succeed is to practice, make mistakes, learn from them and practice again, just like becoming a better skier, tennis player or swimmer. When you stop practising, you also forget!


Ground Rules (Agreements) and Family Meetings


First, during a Family Meeting (once a week, ideally), we discussed ‘Ground Rules or Agreements‘ for screen time and brainstormed what was respectful for all of us. We wrote it down on paper and had it posted in the kitchen.  This is important as nobody wants to memorise or remember ground rules. During this process of changing habits and finding a balance in integrating screens into our daily lives, we learned that managing screen time is essential for everyone, not just children.

The first agreements came out something like this:

  1. No smartphones during meal times nor after dinner time.
  2. All smartphones are in a basket during sleep time (I bought him an alarm clock)
  3. Minimal screen time once a day, preferably during the weekend. (this was fine-tuned as we progressed)
  4. We share our feelings and thoughts to monitor our usage every week.

My wow moment was with the last point. My son used his smartphone to connect with his friends, exchange information, do homework, and watch YouTube vidéos on topics he is interested in. Sharing feelings and thoughts about screen time and its content was an excellent opportunity to understand how we use technology. And discussing the consequences. We asked ourselves, is it helpful? Or is it just passing the time out of boredom?

Curiosity Questions, Show Faith, and Act Without Words

There were constant fine-tuning moments and adaptations as my son grew in age. I sometimes lost my temper (and my patience), which was when I had to back out to try again. (Having a good breathing technique helps!)

I had desperate moments when I felt uncertain and worried about excessive use and content. This was when I noticed he lacked sleep or rest, did not respect the curfew, or forgot chores. Lecturing did not help – on the contrary.  I tried with total failure.  Children are well informed about the dangers of excessive screens or inappropriate content, as discussed at school.  This is when the PD tool ‘Curiosity Questions’ (for conversation) was most helpful once I was calm.

I started by saying, ‘I noticed you are quite tired’, or ‘You look tired and lacking sleep…’ Followed by questions such as, ‘What is happening? or ‘What could you do about it?’ or ‘Do you want to talk about it during the family meeting?’  There was never a response like, ‘Oh, mother darling, you are so right! Thank you for asking! I will adapt my behaviour IMMEDIATELY!’ With a big smile on his face. No, this did not happen.  It’s usually a grunt and body language that clearly states, ‘Get out of my way and don’t bother me.’ kind of.

I try to stay calm and shut my mouth. (PD tool – ‘Act Without Words’). I wait by the door of his room until he looks up again and says, ‘All right, Mom, yeah, I heard you. Now please go away and shut the door.’  I responded, ‘OK, so let me know tonight during dinner time what your thoughts are on this and if you have any solutions. We can also talk about it during the family meeting. You choose. After another grunt, I shut the door and left.

If you don’t return to it during dinner time, there is no follow-up. This is as important as showing faith. When we show faith in our children, they develop courage and faith in themselves.

Hence, I asked again at dinner time if he wanted to talk about it now or have it at the family meeting. Choices provide small steps in shared power. In this instance, my son acknowledged not sleeping enough and said he would try to go to bed earlier. I asked again what this meant and how he was going to do it.  He said he would go to bed after homework this week to catch up on rest and sleep.

Yup, change only comes with consciousness and the 3 As. Awareness – Acceptance – Action.

To recap, here is what it says on the PD Tool Card on Limited Screen Time:

Screen time is addictive and interferes with relationships.

  • For young children, be careful about using the TV or screens as babysitters.
  • Do not allow computers TV, or cell phones in children’s rooms
  • Make agreements with children about how much TV, video games, texting, and internet time is reasonable
  • Brainstorm fun alternative activities that bring family members together.

Today, my son is a young adult, and he sometimes struggles with limiting screen time like myself. It’s like working too much or overeating.  Screens are wonderful and, at the same time, have to be regulated like all good things in life – balance is crucial to remain healthy and for our well-being in general.

There is a difference between going on screens to relax, learn, and unwind and escaping confrontation, reality, and problems.

Are you consuming or producing, and is it helpful or a liability?


Small steps to effective behaviour change

Here are some questions to help you set up your goals to limit screen time and model for your child.

  • What are the two goals you are willing to commit to?
  • What will it cost you if you don’t follow through?
  • What action can you take immediately to achieve these two goals?

Examples of parents setting specific goals:

  • My goal is to have a screen-free weekend once a month.
  • I don’t have my phone in the bedroom
  • I remove my favourite sports apps from my smartphone
  • I resist checking my phone when preparing a meal and at the table.

Take it step by step, and remember, mistakes are opportunities to learn. Perfection does not exist.  We have a lifetime to practice. I’m still practising!


Interested to know more or have a conference organised on the topic? Any thoughts on the above?  Let me know!

Contact me at izumi@ipositivelinc.com 

I look forward to hearing from you. Stay well, keep the faith.

Happy Greetings!


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