How Real People Regulate Their Families’ Tech Usage


By Kate Ashford It’s one thing to talk about how much time everyone spends on screens and smartphones—but it’s another to actually put a plan in place to regulate it.

But a plan is helpful. More than half of teens report that they spend too much time on their cellphones, according to the Pew Research Center, and 36% of their parents say they do, also. Seventy-two percent of teens check their phones for messages as soon as they wake up (and 57% of parents), and 51% of teens feel their parent is distracted by their phone when having in-person conversations. (Seventy-two percent of parents feel their teens are distracted.)

So what are people doing in their own homes to control tech usage? It’s not an easy answer. “I honestly don’t feel like I do a very good job at it,” says one Pelham mom, who preferred not to use her name. “And it almost seems like tempting fate to say you have a handle on it.”

Here are some strategies that some local families have put in place:

Charge phones out of the bedroom. “From the very beginning, my kids had to plug in their phones in the kitchen every night—no phones in their rooms overnight. My husband and I do the same.” –Eileen Miller, parent to kids ages 17 and 15

“Phones are charged downstairs for the night. We adults follow the same rules!” –Silmara Sucena, parent to kids ages 17, 15, 11, 7 and 4

"I ask daughter nightly to leave her phone downstairs. By 8:30 approximately each night we all go to our rooms to read real books. Once it is a routine, it is easy.” –Aimee Kaplan, parent to kids ages 12, 9.75 and 7

Ditch the phone during family time. “We usually try to show them, by putting phones—ours included—screen down on the table when we are having dinner or out at a restaurant. We try not to take their phones away. We’ve learned to ‘show, not tell’ them how to prioritize people over phones.” –Tara Lyons, parent to kids 14, 12 and 10

“I put the phones over the kitchen sink while doing homework. This is usually successful unless they need to use them for the task, and this it is distractive. All kids put their phones in the hallway by 9:30.” –Karen Green, parent to kids ages 14, 11 and 8

“I make sure no one is on any electronics during food times. Even if the kids are just eating a bowl of cereal at the counter and I’m making lunches, no electronics are allowed. I’m also careful to say things like, ‘Put the games away so we can just be together.’ It’s those seemingly empty moments that leave room for them to talk about whatever—be it important or weird preteen stuff.” –Rachel Adams, parent to kids ages 11, 6, and 6 months

Use tech tools to limit usage. “We utilize tools through Verizon to control what times certain devices no longer have access to the Wi-Fi in the evening as one way to ensure that they stop using them after a certain time.” – Nichole Otondi, parent to kids ages 14, 12 and 8

“My husband has installed Our Pact or Screen Time on my kids’ phones. It allows him to limit their access to any app that has been downloaded onto their phones. He limits them to an hour a day, after which the apps disappear from their phones and they need to ask his permission to get more time.” –Elaine Chang, parent to kids nearly 17, 14, and 12.5

Make open access the rule. “We are pretty careful in middle school at looking at their feeds, and it’s a rule that we are allowed to look at their phone at any time for any reason.” –Anonymous

“[My 11-year-old] knows I read his texts whenever the urge strikes, and we talk through some of what I see, and sometimes he brings something to me that he wants to talk about. It’s led to some great conversations that I’m not sure would have surfaced otherwise.” –Erin Blakeley Ginsburg, parent to kids ages 11, 9 and 6

Limit certain apps or phone access until kids are older. “We didn’t allow SnapChat until high school.” –Anonymous

“No one in my house got a smartphone before high school. And we talked a lot about etiquette before they got the technology. There were very few downsides to waiting that long.” –Laura Barge O’Sullivan, parent to kids ages 16 and 14

Limit device access in general. “No phones at the dinner table or during family discussions, and absolutely no technology or television in the bedrooms ever.” –Jen Silvester, parent to kids ages 11 and 8

“I take [my teens’] phones away almost every evening so they can get their school work and chores done.” – Jo Ann Santana-Sannella, parent to kids ages 19 and 16

“Our rules is no phones on the second floor. Or third. So, in theory, all the bedrooms are phone free. The only devices allowed are Chromebooks.” –Kara McLoughlin, parent to kids ages 15 and 14

“Where we have to have a continual dialogue is the Xbox. We do have limits where [our 13-year-old] has to earn the privilege measured through his grades. It is truly a daily/weekly conversation as that is a motivator for him. Most school nights, he is not allowed unless he has earned it and his work is done.” –Colleen Maiberger, parent to kids ages 13, 11 and 4

Talk often about devices and social media in general. “My most useful tool is to talk to them about the downside to social media. I often ask if they think their lives are better for it, [and] almost always they say no. They do know that it adds stress, adds a feeling of missing out, adds opportunities, to be misread, etc.” –Michele Anderson, parent to kids ages 16 and 14

“I’ve shared info I’ve seen about screen time and health issues with [my 13-year-old.] She seems to get it. Sometimes she lectures us about our own usage.” –Kim Jaimes, parent to kids age 18 and 13