Bring back play: Family screen time disagreements

Victoria S.
September 19, 2018
Screen time is a family affair. It’s not easy to set rules, much less enforce them, if you don’t have the power of consensus on your side. But it’s rare when the whole family can reach an agreement on screen time rules when there are differing opinions on healthy amounts of screen time as well as what kinds of screen time should be limited.

Kids and screens

If you’re a parent with young children, you’ve probably experienced screen time pushback from your child—you lift the tablet or smartphone from your little one’s fingers, and they protest. You gently insist, and the waterworks start. You let them know this isn’t helping their case, and the real meltdown begins. It’s painful to see our children upset. Maybe we give in when they act out―51 percent of parents couldn’t imagine traveling without screens to serve as digital pacifiers, and 21 percent of parents have the same policy when going out to dinner¹. Even if parents maintain their rules in the face of tears, these tantrums and disagreements take their toll on our families.
“My five-year-old boy cries as if his best friend died when asked to get off the PS4. For my 8 and 5-year-old, it’s the first thing they think about when they wake up.” -Survey Respondent
1 in 3 parents regularly argue with their kids about screen time, and over half of parents, at 52 percent, experience their kids’ anger and frustration when putting a stop to screen time for the day. And when you take into account the 1 in 5 parents who don’t make rules about screen time, that means only 35 percent of parents who set some kind of rules around screen time are able to turn off the tech without frequent angry protests¹.

Grownups and screens

Family discord doesn’t stop between parents and kids. Parents often disagree about how much screen time is appropriate for their child—and for each other. Over a quarter of parents, at 26 percent, regularly argue with each other about their kids’ screen time, and about the same amount of parents argue over how much time their partner spends looking at screens, at 27 percent¹.
“My husband is addicted to screen time and doesn't see anything wrong with it, allowing our kids to follow in his footsteps.” - Survey Respondent
When parents can’t find common ground on screen time or hold different beliefs about what is and isn’t appropriate, it’s hard to enforce any kind of rules for kids. So how, in the face of so much evidence, can some parents not believe in enforcing screen time restrictions? It’s actually pretty easy to relate - they’ve even got a point. Not all screen media is bad.

Is all screen time created equal?

Well, of course not. There’s TV, video games, apps, news, academic journals, and so much more. Screens, and more specifically, the internet, are just a source of information. And not all information is equal. Some of it is factual, some of it is entertaining, and some of it is harmful. 76 percent of us agree that technology can be a bad thing.¹ When you consider screen addiction and its effects on sleep, vision, and physical activity, that one’s a given. But that’s not the whole story. To get a clearer picture you have to look past the screen and see the types of screen media that comprise your family’s digital diet. Related Post: Kids and Cell Phones: The Common Sense Approach to Screens 61 percent of us use technology as a teaching tool with our kids.¹ This can mean a lot more than putting on educational TV or playing math games. Many TV shows, movies, and even video games can teach kids about the world around them, about people and morality. Watching certain screen media with your kid can provide valuable opportunities for productive discussion. For example, when you and your kid watch The Lion King, there’s room to address mortality, friendship, honesty and dishonesty, and so much more. 65 percent of parents believe that technology can enhance experiences with others¹, and when you look at the elements that comprise a healthy digital diet, that seems reasonable. But not all screen media is like that.
“My husband and I are on total opposite pages—he is a technology and gaming fanatic, so the more the better in his opinion. I am an early childhood educator—we are on two different levels.” -Survey Respondent
59 percent of parents believe that screen time disrupts quality time with our family¹. That also seems reasonable when you think about kids entranced by tablet screens, parents half-listening to their children while scrolling social media, and the more antisocial aspects of screens. Now, when you look at the numbers, 65 percent believing tech brings us together, and 59 percent touting the opposite, it doesn’t seem to add up. That means that many parents have it right - technology does both, depending on when you use it, how often you use it, and what you use it for.

Talking it out

If you, your partner, and your kid or kids hold different views on screen time, creating rules can be tough and will certainly require compromise on all sides. For screen-shy parents, taking time to recognize the individual value of screen media is important. For tech-forward parents, recognizing the benefits of time limits for your child will go a long way. For kids old enough to participate in the discussion, feeling heard and understood is crucial to their active participation. Ideally, your family will end up with a set of screen time rules that allow a certain amount of screen time per day, consisting of valuable pieces of screen media that your child still enjoys. Relay supports healthy digital habits for kids of all ages. If your kid isn’t quite ready for a phone of their own, try the screen-free alternative that kids love and parents trust.  

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Nationally representative online survey of 1,403 U.S. parents of children aged 6-11 conducted by Republic Wireless; May 2018
About The Study:
The Relay Bring Back Play Study was fielded online by Republic Wireless from April 27, 2018 to May 2, 2018 in partnership with Critical Mix, a global insights data provider and owner of consumer online survey panel, OneOpinion. A total of 1,403 parents of children aged 6-11 were interviewed across the US. The margin of sampling error for total respondents (N=1,403) is +2.6 percentage points.
About Critical Mix
Critical Mix creates insights that drive business decisions with easy, collaborative tools to access global target audiences, program engaging surveys and visualize results. Insights professionals around the world rely on Critical Mix’s simplified solutions to innovate and grow. Critical Mix is passionate about providing the best customer experience in the industry. Supporting every project with a dedicated, always-available team of professionals who anticipate needs and provide thoughtful customer care. The company operates globally with locations throughout North America, Europe, and Asia. Call us at 1-800-651-8240 or email

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