Getting kids off their phones and hooked on balance

Founder of Liz B. Parenting, a parenting consulting practice, Liz Berholz is an educator, speaker and Adler Institute-trained Life and Professional Coach. Liz works with parents of toddlers, tweens and teens by giving families the tools they need to create homes and lives filled with mutual respect, cooperation, connection, responsibility and fun.


There’s nothing better than seeing your child, pink-cheeked and smiling, running around after a game of tag. It combines playfulness, heart-racing suspense, focused engagement, social interaction and spurts of physical energy with a dash of spatial intelligence. But what we seem to be seeing a lot more is kids staring at their phones in places where they could otherwise find active or creative ways of interacting with the world. Like playing a baseball app while at an actual baseball game, or decorating cupcakes on a screen when they have time to bake real cupcakes.

I am a technophile. I love my devices. I love that my kids know how to use technology and we talk about how it’s changing the world. But I think that’s the point. We use it, love it, limit it and we also talk about it. I notice in my work with families is that it’s often not the devices themselves that are the challenge, it’s what’s not being discussed.

It’s the conversation that matters – the conversations around what balance looks like in life, around how much is too much staring at a screen, around what our minds and bodies need to be happy and healthy, around responsibility and self-regulation, around respect for one’s self and those around us. It’s also about the conversations that aren’t happening when we’re otherwise distracted by our technology. Here are a few ways to keep up the conversations:

  1. Mindfulness is loosely defined as paying attention on purpose, living in the moment. It can be incorporated into all aspects of our lives such as eating and savoring our food, accessing all our senses when we go for a walk), even practicing full presence when we are listening to people. Deep listening is mindfulness at its best. Give it a try by listening to truly understand someone’s values and experiences when they are speaking, instead of listening to simply reply. It’s a deeply respectful practice that makes kids (and grown-ups) feel heard and deepens relationships. A deep relationship encourages kids to take us seriously in return, which makes them want to collaborate when limits need to be set. Kids who want to listen to us?! Magic.
  2. Collaborative limit-setting is a highly effective way to have your kids start to take responsibility for their own screen time. When kids are little, it makes sense for parents to set the limits. However, you can still begin to give them little moments of independence. A great way to do this is to give them a choice, for example asking if they would like to play on their app now, or after lunch. As our child gets older, give them more and more freedom to make decisions about their technology use. Let them know that they will have more freedom to choose the more responsible they show themselves to be. If you notice there is a meltdown around a specific app, put it on the table and let them know that if this happens again, there will have to be more limitations around it. A great way to say this respectfully is to: notice, state the reality, then give them choices. For example, “I notice you had trouble putting down that game. You missed the beginning of dinner. Can you manage to get off within two minutes next time, or do we need to rethink access to that game?” If you are respectful, yet firm, and make it a team effort, your kids are more likely to follow the rules because they have had a say in where the boundaries live.
  3. Quality over quantity helps parents and kids decide what time well-spent online looks like. There are plenty of reasons why technology can enrich our lives. Look for educational apps or e-books, encourage online learning around a topic your child loves, help them learn what reliable online resources look like, help them learn ways to stay safe and protect their privacy. A great question to ask is, does this enrich my child’s experience of the world? What life skills are they learning? More importantly, ask your kids these same questions and see what comes back (test your ability to listen deeply!). This concept of quality over quantity is also shown through research to be very important in terms of time parents spend with their children. So, even if your family enjoys being “plugged in” on devices, once those devices get put down, go and have some fun together – be fully present, even if it’s for a short time. It does make a difference!
  4. Start the conversation by plotting out some family-time dedicated to just being together. Get outside, add in some playfulness (even if it just involves acting like a monkey on the way to brushing teeth), go “forest bathing“, or spend time decorating a “charging station” where all electronics go during family time. Screens can have a little fun during their downtime, too.
  5. Last but not at all least, get together for dinner. No screens, no distractions. Whatever your family can manage, set aside a few times a week where you have a meal together and share love, space and ideas. Nothing nourishes relationships, while covering long-term parenting goals, like a good old-fashioned family dinner. It encourages speaking up, sharing, collaboration, responsibility, creativity, togetherness, significance, thoughtfulness and so much more. Best of all, you’ll be creating a nurturing home – so that when your child comes across things that concern them online, you will have set the stage for being an approachable adult. A major parenting win.
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