When you say screen time’s over, how does your child react?

By The Understood Team

Screen time is a part of many kids’ days — especially lately, since they’ve been spending more time at home. And it’s natural for kids to get caught up in a game or a show and have trouble turning it off.

But maybe you’ve noticed it’s harder than ever to get your child to shut off the screens and move on to the next thing — homework, dinner, bedtime. What’s going on?

The first thing to consider is how your family approaches turning off screens. There are some simple ways to make the transition easier for you and your child:

  • Before screen time starts, set clear expectations around how much time your child gets, whether it’s 20 minutes or two hours. When time’s almost up, give your child a warning.
  • Or you can look for a natural stopping point — like the end of a round in a game or the end of a show. Agree ahead of time that this is when your child will turn it off.
  • Make sure your child is paying attention when you say to turn it off. Have your child look at you and repeat what you’ve said.
  • If nothing happens, go over and put a hand on your child’s shoulder. Try not to talk or yell from another room or while you’re doing other things.
  • Let your child know what to do after turning off the screen. It’s easier to “shift gears” if there’s something specific to shift them to.

You can also make a written or picture schedule of when it is and isn’t screen time. Instead of nagging, hold up the schedule and remind your child without saying a word.

If you haven’t tried any of these strategies before, see if they make a difference.

What if you have tried them, though, and your child still ignores you or gets angry? It may seem like your child’s just being defiant, and that’s definitely possible. But there are other reasons kids have trouble turning off devices.

A big one is trouble with focus. If kids struggle to pay attention when you say it’s time to turn it off, that information doesn’t get in.

Kids who struggle with focus sometimes “hyperfocus,” too. They get so immersed in something that they can’t pull themselves away. Your child may not even hear you say it’s time to shut down.

They might also get so involved that they can’t stop thinking or talking about what they’re watching or playing. If it’s hard to turn it off mentally, it’s extra hard to turn it off physically.

Here are some signs that focus problems are making screen time transitions hard for your child:

  • You say it’s time to turn it off, but your child doesn’t look up or react in any way.
  • Your child hears you and responds but goes back to playing as soon as you leave.
  • After a bunch of warnings, you firmly say to shut it down, and your child gets very angry or has an outburst.

Looking more closely, you may see your child struggling to switch gears from screen time to something else. Your child might even seem a little lost.

If you notice your child doing these things when screen time’s over, learn more about why kids struggle with focus. It’s very common in kids, and there are lots of ways to help.

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    About the author

    About the author

    The Understood Team is made up of passionate writers and editors. Many of them have kids who learn and think differently.

    Reviewed by

    Reviewed by

    Kristin J. Carothers, PhD is a clinical child psychologist devoted to the destigmatization of mental health problems.