Transitioning from Summer to School: A Parent's Guide to Managing Screen Time

Child with head in hands

With summer break winding down and back-to-school on the horizon, you may be wondering how you will possibly move away from a relaxed approach to screen time into something more reasonable for the academic year. 

As you eyeball your child — with their own eyeballs glued to a screen — don’t let yourself panic. In this article, we’ll go over ways to make the back-to-school screen time transition (relatively) painless for everyone. 

Timing is everything 

If you try to force a major reduction in screen time overnight, you’re likely to face pretty big pushback. It’s not that your kids are just being pains about it, though. Like any transition, most kids (and most people) do better with a little time to adjust.

Give your kids as much heads-up as the calendar allows by warning them that screen time expectations will soon shift. If your kid has an extra-hard time with transitions, consider starting the process now and making incremental adjustments leading up to the return to class.

Involve kids in the discussion

Of course, as the adult, you have the final say — but you’ll get better cooperation if your kids have a voice in setting the rules. Start by explaining why you want to shift screen time expectations for the school year and then ask them what they think is reasonable. You might be surprised by what they come up with. 

Stay firm with what’s important to you, but also be prepared to compromise. For example, you might think “no screens until homework is done” is a great idea, but your kid might express that they need some time to zone out and decompress when they arrive home. In this case, a half-hour of screen time before they hit the books could be a reasonable solution. 

Set clear expectations 

Be clear about what screen time expectations will be during the school year. Even if you’re simply returning to last year’s rules, your kids will benefit from a reminder. 

Ultimately, each family’s screen time guidelines will look different. You need to set rules that work for your kids and your household. Here are some ideas to kick you off: 

  • Set the phone on Do Not Disturb during school hours. 
  • Put the phone away after 9 p.m. 
  • No social media until homework is done.
  • If your child needs to use the internet in order to complete their homework, limit it to one device and turn off notifications to minimize distractions.  
  • Set daily limits on specific apps. (Tip: Try these screen time tools)

Create a digital device contract 

Setting a digital device contract will really clarify expectations and help everyone stick to guidelines. Also known as a family media agreement, digital device contracts are a way to put down device rules on paper — like having your child agree to turn off notifications while they do homework, monitoring their online activity, and adhering to specific screen time limits. 

No need to reinvent the wheel, though. We’ve made this handy, customizable template to get you started. 

@bright_canary

On The List TV, our CEO Karl Stillner explains why digital device contracts matter. Find a free downloadable template on our blog! #parenting

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Progress, not perfection 

As you embark on this transition, remember that there will be bumps in the road. Like any change, an adjustment in screen time expectations will take time before it becomes a habit. 

Staying firm is important, but so is flexibility and understanding. If your kiddo slips up, it’s fine to impose consequences. But it’s also reasonable to simply address the issue with a discussion and a reset. After all, like you, your kid is only human. 

The first few weeks back to school may also reveal flaws in your initial guidelines. You may discover you need to tighten some expectations or relax others in order for things to work in practice, not just on paper. 

It’s okay for rules to adjust as needed — don’t be afraid to do just that. 

In short

Summertime often brings with it a loosening of screen time rules. Back-to-school season is a great time to revisit expectations and set new guidelines. After all, your kid is transitioning from unstructured time to structured school days. Implementing basic boundaries can help set them up for success in the new year. 

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