What Happens When Parents Limit Screens?

4 Key Strategies for Parental Monitoring


We have written plenty on what happens when parents do not limit screens sufficiently. Avoiding sleep problems, rigid gender stereotypes and consumerism may be reason enough to monitor your child’s screen time. But, are there any positive effects to the sometimes isolating work that is raising screen-limited kids? Recent research published by the American Medical Association says yes! There are some positive effects associated with parental monitoring of screen-time. Unfortunately, many parents do not monitor or limit children’s screen-time. Perhaps they feel it is a losing battle. This article explains exactly what type of screen-monitoring is associated with positive outcomes and how to do it.

The Research

Researchers collected data from 1,323 third-, fourth-, and fifth-grade students. Data was also collected from their parents and teachers. The researchers wanted to determine if parental monitoring of screen-use was associated with any positive outcomes 6-months later. Not surprisingly, more screen-time at time 1 predicted less sleep, poorer school performance, lower prosocial behavior and higher aggressive behavior at time 2.

The good news for Screen-Free-ers (and Screen-limiters) is that there were wide and far-reaching positive effects of monitoring and limiting screen-time. The researchers summarize their results, “Parental monitoring of media has protective effects on a wide variety of academic, social, and physical child outcomes.” Specifically, they noted that parental monitoring influences children’s sleep, school performance and prosocial behavior.

Previous research has found that when parents restrict media, children spend less time with screens, read more and exhibit more prosocial behaviors (sharing, helpful behavior). However, this study demonstrated positive outcomes across several important outcomes, demonstrating that parental monitoring of screen-time is a far-reaching parental activity. Additionally, the present study used a longitudinal design and included other reporters (teachers) which bolsters the strength of the results.

What is Parental Monitoring?

Parental monitoring was linked to better sleep, better academic performance and more prosocial behavior. So, how do researchers define parental monitoring? There are four key things you can do monitor your child’s screen-use:

1.      Co-view media with your child.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents co-view all media with children 2- to 5-years of age. A research study conducted on middle-school children suggests that the positive effects of co-viewing continue as children age. (1)

2.      Restrict the amount of time children spend with media.

Restricting the total amount of time children spend with media is one of the easiest forms of parental monitoring. We recommend you keep your child screen-free as long as is feasible for your family and then closely limit and monitor your child’s screen-time. For older children, separating their screen-time into categories of passive consumption, active-social and creative time can be helpful, since not all screen-time is equal.

3.      Restrict the types of content your child accesses.

Violent content is the most problematic form. Violent content is prevalent in everything from games, to movies, to cartoons and has been associated with a host of problems, including sleep, attention and aggressive behavior. Just because there is no blood and perhaps the victim pops right back up, doesn’t mean the violence isn’t sending a message.

4.      Actively discuss the meaning and effects of media content with children.

This is often referred to as active-mediation. Without active-mediation, co-viewing can be a problem. This is because children may assume that if a parent does not question or object to on-screen behavior, they are passively condoning that behavior. Active mediation is the step in parental monitoring that involves the most work on your part. This includes discussing the values and behaviors you see on the screen while watching with your child. Don’t be afraid to slow things down by hitting pause to discuss what you are seeing or experiencing.

Active Mediation also includes having conversations with your child about screens when you are not actively watching them. Topics to discuss include things like violence and the effects of online gaming, advertising and gender roles.

Final Word

There are few things that parents can do that will have as far-reaching effects as monitoring your child’s screen-use. While it may seem overwhelming at first, there are numerous resources to help you develop a Family Media Plan and appropriately limit and monitor your child’s screen-time. Connect with other parents who are working to limit their child’s screen-time at the Screen-Free Parenting Community. And, remember, while tech and media companies would like to convince you otherwise, the basics of parenting have not changed: warm, empathic parents who enforce firm limits and high expectations continue to raise the healthiest children, regardless of what issue you are facing.

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  1. Gentile, D. A., Nathanson, A. I., Rasmussen, E. E., Reimer, R. A., & Walsh, D. A. (2012). Do you see what I see? parent and child reports of parental monitoring of media. Family Relations, 61(3), 470-487.