Screen Time + Family Balance


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Every family has their own set of rules around screen time. At the end of the day, you do what works for you. 

But if it’s not working or maybe you want some more guidelines around it but aren’t sure where to start, you should listen to the podcast I shared last week where the author of The Art of Screen Time, Anya Kamenetz, was interviewed about her research on this topic. (I highly recommend listening and reading both). It’s the guide you wish you had to begin with, it’s based in evidence and gives first hand details of what parents are really doing.

Well, it definitely got me thinking about the current use of screens in my home with my 4 and 6 year old (mostly the iPad), and how I probably need to start setting some more understandable guidelines for them. 

And last Monday I started a new rule around iPad time and am loving it!

But first, here are some things we already have in place…

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No Screen Time After Dinner

This was really hard to give up because when my kids (then 3 and 5) would watch their two shows after dinner/bath/pjs, I was able to get things done around the house — like dishes or lunches for the next day. 

BUT, instituting this rule of no screens after dinner helped us in so many ways… 

Reduced Tantrums

The minute that second show was over, it was tantrum city when the screen had to be turned off. Even after I gave the heads up, the warnings of last show, the control of turning the TV off… to no avail, there was a meltdown.

Something had to change.

I had to give up my sacred “get things done” time and declare no more screens after dinner.

Kids Played Together

It was the best decision I’ve made to date (ok, maybe there are a couple others that were good too). But this time is now used completely different — in a good way. My kids found things to do TOGETHER (of course after a few days of protest of no more shows in the evening). 

And yes, there are definitely some hair-pulling and mind-numbing arguments between the two (they’re there regardless, but they far outweigh the meltdowns I was handling — or trying to handle).

More Connected

This was not only great for them, but I started to play with them during this time. I wanted them to find ways to be creative with their time, so we did things together at first.

We also found time to connect. 

We would start to play games like hide-and-go-seek or tag… really they just wanted to be chased and have fun. While I did this with them in the beginning when I instituted the rule, I slowly stepped away and can now still get some things done while they play. 

It came full circle… just needed to plant the seed.

Now, keep in mind, my kids are sensitive to screens (they can get so glazed over and have a hard time listening after), so this decision was a no brainer for us. But other kids might be less effected.

Cutting out screens after dinner also made bedtime SO much easier and smoother for us. 

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No Screens At Dinner

I might be one of the few in this corner, but whether we are home or out to dinner, we have never brought our screens to the table for our kids to watch while eating. Ya, it may have meant for a shorter dinner on our end if we were at a restaurant, but now we play games like tic tac toe, or draw something together. 

The best part about this boundary is that when we go out to dinner, they never ever ask to use our phones when we sit down to eat. 

I really thought about this one before we had kids. I just didn’t want screens at the dinner table. After all, sitting down for dinner is meant to connect and catch up. That’s how I was brought up.

I equate it to no phones during dinner. Ya know, the one that’s connected to the wall with the super long cord where you can move two rooms over and still talk on it! The only reason the phone was answered during our dinner time was if my dad was on-call and it was his office calling about a patient. 

Or maybe we ate in our family room every once in awhile if a big Dodger or Laker game was on TV. There are always exceptions and loop holes. We parents just need to be clear on what they are, so that our kids are clear too. 

So, thanks mom and dad for instilling this concept of dinner time as togetherness in me…  

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Enter The New iPad Rule

Now that my littles are a bit older, the iPad has become a much bigger source of entertainment for them. They really didn’t play much on it before this past year. 

So, as the frequent requests came in to play on the iPad, I really had to think about the time they were on it and what they were doing. In their eyes it probably seemed I was a bit willy nilly in my decisions about when the use of the iPad was ok.

I used to monitor their screen time in my head based on how much they have used screens for the day or for the week with a balance of other activities.

I felt like they were always wondering what my answer was going to be when they asked to use it. But it made sense to me! 

So here’s what I came up with and it piggy backs what Anya Kamenetz did with her daughter…

iPad Passes

Genius. This not only controls the amount of time each week they play, but it allows them to start monitoring their own time and how they want to use it. 

This also has the added bonus of taking the guess work out for me. 

My kids get their hour of iPad time broken up throughout the week, and I don’t have to think about whether to say yes or no. If they have a pass, and all other activities that need to be done in the moment are completed (e.g., dressed, backpack packed, socks and shoes), and there is time to play, then by all means!

Anya gave her daughter three 20-minute passes for the week. I played with this idea and decided to give my kids six 10-minute passes, and they can double up if there is time to do so.

I also decided to color code our passes. I didn’t want them just playing anything on the iPad, so I split them into two categories: educational and free play. The free play passes allows them to play those mindless games that can go on and on whereas the educational ones are well, educational.

So, we started this last Monday, and it has been amazing! I think they are still getting used to the idea because the free play pass was used with an educational game. But, hey… I’m not complaining with that one! 

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There are so many things I loved, learned, and adopted from The Art of Screen Time, but there is one more thing that I want to briefly share because it was so enlightening and really made me think and change some of my habits.


Our kids do what we do, whether we like it or not. So, when you pick up your phone around your kids, tell them what you’re doing. Essentially, you are making what you are doing transparent. 

This holds yourself accountable and checks you on the mindless use of your phone. 

You probably won’t tell them if you are picking it up to play Candy Crush or see what’s happening on Rhianna’s Instagram feed. But you might be more inclined to tell them that you’re ordering dinner and engage them take a look at the menu together. 

Since I have been aware of this, I have found myself putting my phone away in my bag a number of times when I go to pick it up. And it’s actually been great!

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One More Thing.

If your having trouble handling your little one’s situation, and need a plan to help resolve that “Thing,” you can set up a free initial 15 min call to get acquainted and tell me what’s going on. Yes, I do more than just sleep consulting.

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Last But Not Least…

Every other week I share 5 things on how you and your little can get the most out of their first 5 years of life in my newsletter — The Healthy Little Note.

If you have little ones, I’m sure you’ll love it!

You can check out the most recent issue here.



Susie Menkes, PhD is a Certified Infant + Toddler Sleep Specialist through the Family Sleep Institute (FSI) and is dedicated to helping families get their little ones to be healthy little sleepers. As a mom of two, she knows and understands what you are going through and is here to support, educate, and guide you on all matters related to sleep... and more!

Susie Menkes, PhD is a Certified Infant + Toddler Sleep Specialist through the Family Sleep Institute (FSI) and is dedicated to helping families get their little ones to be healthy little sleepers. As a mom of two, she knows and understands what you are going through and is here to support, educate, and guide you on all matters related to sleep... and more!