Children and Technology: How to Limit Screen Time

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Indistractable" by Nir Eyal. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you find it difficult to limit your children’s screen time? Why is it better to allow your child to set their own limits?

Children and technology are a bad mix because oftentimes, children don’t understand why too much screen time is bad for them. That’s why Indistractable author Nir Eyal suggests educating your child on the importance of limiting screen time then allowing them to set their own limits.

Learn why educating your children is better than setting arbitrary rules.

Raising Indistractable Children

According to Nir Eyal, children and technology don’t mix well. That’s why the final part of coaching your children in indistractability is helping them learn the vital skill of self-control with precommitments. From an early age, explain to your children that apps and games are made by people who want to take up all of their attention, for their own profit. This helps children understand that it’s up to them to make smart decisions about their time—they can’t rely on app makers.  

Then, help your child set limits on their screen time. Your child must determine her own limits. When a parent imposes limits, they diminish the child’s sense of autonomy, which may lead to more distraction. Furthermore, the child learns that they can do whatever they want as long as their parents aren’t there enforcing the rules. On the other hand, when a child sets their own limits, they learn how to self-regulate—they’ll stick to limits, even when their parents aren’t there.

There are three steps to helping your child set a technology time limit. 

  1. Explain why too much screen time is unhealthy, and ask your child how much screen time she thinks is reasonable. If her suggestion is reasonable, agree to it. If it’s unreasonable, suggest a lower limit. 
  2. Ask her how she’ll avoid going over her limit. For example, she might set a timer or mark the time with an event: “I’ll play on the iPad at 5:30 and finish when we have dinner at 6.”
  3. Explain that if she breaks her “promise to herself”—a simple way for a child to understand a precommitment—you’ll have to have another conversation about being healthy and smart about her time.

Let Precommitments Change

As your children grow, their precommitments will likely change.

  • They might use their time differently. For example, they use their screen time for video games instead of TV episodes or switch from a daily screen limit to a weekly limit so they can spend more time online over the weekend.
  • They might find different ways to self-regulate, such as downloading app-blocking extensions or setting their laptops to disconnect from the internet at a certain time.

Allow for these developments. It’s not important what your child’s rules look like or how they’re managed—it’s important that they’re finding ways to establish and maintain healthy habits without parental intervention. 

Children and Technology: How to Limit Screen Time

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Nir Eyal's "Indistractable" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Indistractable summary:

  • How to become indistractable in a world full of distractions
  • Why your schedule should be based on your values instead of tasks
  • How to start driving your life instead of letting its distractions drive you

Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

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