How to Reduce Arguments About Screen Time

children enjoying screen time

Arguments about screen time are on the rise. Our research shows screen time is a top concern for parents. Do you feel it’s become a battle in your family? You might feel fed up with the arguments when you try to get your child off their screens.

Are you struggling with these common problems?

  1. Age ratings and what’s appropriate to watch
  2. Time spent on screens
  3. The impact screens can have on school
  4. Screens in the bedroom
  5. Staying safe online

Let’s look at these issues and share some practical ideas to help you reduce conflict and improve communication with your family.

1: Age ratings on games and programmes

Violence is everywhere. Often it’s hidden away as comedy or made into a cartoon. A study by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that hero-type characters are involved in almost half of violent scenes on TV, and 70% of these characters show no remorse. That can confuse children trying to work out the difference between right and wrong. 

And then there’s the challenge of deciding which shows and games are okay for your child to watch when they warn of “adult themes”. Especially when they think all their friends are watching.

To help keep them from accidentally watching inappropriate things, try:

  • Having an open conversation about what they’re watching 
  • Checking the age ratings before giving permission 
  • Using websites like Common Sense Media to find honest reviews
  • Setting parental controls on gaming devices and streaming accounts like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video

Every family has different ideas about what is, and is not okay for their child to watch. You can talk about games and programmes on a case-by-case basis if you choose not to stick with official age ratings.

For example, you might let your 14-year-old watch a 15-rated comedy which contains swearing, but not let them watch a film with the same age rating that contains more graphic violence. A Family Media Plan is a useful tool for deciding your rules.

Child playing computer games and having screen time.

2: The amount of time spent on screens

The World Health Organisation and American Academy of Pediatrics both make recommendations about the amount of screen time young children watch.

The World Health Organisation reviewed many studies about screen time to inform the guidelines they suggest.

It recommends:

  • Babies under 2 should have no screen time
  • Children between 2 and 4-years-old should have up to 1 hour per day

The American Academy of Pediatrics makes similar recommendations and goes further to consider teenagers and adults:

  • No screen time for children under 2
  • Children between 2 and 12 should have up to 1 hour per day
  • Teenagers and adults should limit screen time to 2 hours per day 

If you want to reduce screen time, start by making small changes rather than a huge one. That helps reduce arguments about screen time and makes it more likely you’ll stick to it.

You could try:

  • Reducing screen time by 30 minutes
  • Creating screen-free times, like during meals
  • Turning off the TV when nobody’s watching
  • Listening to audiobooks and kids’ radio
  • Setting a timer to stop screen time after an hour

3: The impact screen time can have on school

It’s easy for children to put off homework because they’re playing a game or watching their favourite show. Or they’ll do the bare minimum in a rush to get back to their screens. It can have a negative impact on their progress at school.

You can create a schedule that allows screen time, but doesn’t let it dominate your child’s day.


  • Making a routine of doing homework as soon as you get home
  • Deciding times in the day when screen time is allowed
  • Creating a list of tasks to be ticked off before screens can go on
  • Limiting the length of screen time allowed

If your child has been anticipating a new game, or has a particular programme they never want to miss, help them plan their homework and chores around it. For example, they might do extra homework the day before a new game is released, so they can have a night off to play.

young children having screen time watching online programmes

4: Screens in the bedroom

Arguments about screen time are often about having devices in bedrooms. If your child has a TV, mobile phone, or gaming device in their room, it’s hard for you to control how much time they’re spending on it and you can’t easily monitor what they’re watching. Keeping screens in family spaces is the safest approach.

Screens in bedrooms could also affect your child’s sleep. The Sleep Foundation reports that around one third of children and more than half of 10 to 19-year-olds don’t get enough sleep. We know screen time is likely to be one reason behind this.

Children’s sleep is affected by screen time when they stay up late to play games and watch shows, leaving them tired and cranky in the mornings. And the blue lights from their devices could also affect them, making them feel less sleepy at bedtime. Turning off devices at least an hour before bedtime helps them get a good night’s sleep

5: Staying safe online

It’s sad we have to tell our children that some people are not honest. But the more we teach them about online stranger danger, in an age appropriate way, the safer they’ll be.

Assume the default settings on most online platforms are public. That means anyone can see your child’s social media profiles and contact them, or message through online video games. Get familiar with the security settings and change them to private to help make them less visible to strangers.

Having a few simple rules in place helps reduce arguments and confusion about what your child is doing online.

For example, your rules might be:

  • Only add someone if you’ve met them in person and trust them
  • Never share personal information online (like your birthday, address, or school name)
  • No photos in school uniform
  • Tell an adult if you feel unsure, or worried

We also have the dangers around what children see online. A report by Revealing Reality found that more than half of 11 to 13-year-olds and 66% of 14 to 15-year-olds reported seeing pornography online and they often found it by accident.

Rather than hoping to keep them from seeing graphic, violent, or adult material, it’s best to assume your child will encounter these at some point, and plan for when it happens.

Talk to them about what they should do if they come across something that seems too adult or makes them feel uncomfortable. If they come to you with a worry about something online, praise them for telling you so they know they’ve done the right thing by coming to you.