• Why is it that the limits we set on device use just don’t seem to hold up?
  • My kids just will not stop playing games on their devices
  • All they seem to want to do is play games
  • They say everything else is boring
  • Whenever there is a spare minute, they turn to their device

Over the years, I have observed many families and listened to many frustrated parents voicing their concerns regarding the influence that games and devices have on their family and the conclusion that I have come to is as follows:

It would seem that the families who have more routine and structure, set fair limits and boundaries and adhere to them, and whose children face the consequences for their actions, appear to have children who are more able to tow the line and accept the limits imposed on them. In other words, these children have learned to live within them and have developed some capacity to tolerate the frustration that this brings them. There is a resignation within these kids that “that’s that, it’s just the way it is and there is no point arguing about it”.

What I observe is that the family’s who are generally more relaxed regarding limits have kids who tend to resist limits and not take them seriously when they are set, (whatever they may be regarding), and that these parents seem more likely to cave to their children’s requests.

Do you think that your kids take the limits you set seriously?

  • When you do set a limit is there often a “beg fest” to extend the limit or change the decision?
  • When your child has had whatever it is they were told they could have, they often want more, and go on at you with PLEEEEEASES and PLEEAADING and begging?
  • When they are told “NO” do they argue, perhaps say that it is unfair and then resort to the PLEEEEEASE thing again or simply ignore the limit?

I often see that the kids who regularly display these patterns of behavior are the ones who this behavior serves a positive purpose for. In other words, this means that the begging and pleading and ignoring of the limits works well for them. Viewed through their eyes, why would they adhere to the limit when they know that if they beg, whine and “pleeeease Mom” about it, they often end up getting their own way.

Another thing that I sometimes observe within these families is the using of devices as a “babysitter” when it suits the parents to do so. This becomes particularly confusing for the children who see themselves as having no device limits for certain times but strict limits at other times.


I am a firm believer that for limits to work, there needs to be consistency across the board and fair limits set and adhered to in many areas of a child’s life. That doesn’t mean there is no time for some flexibility but it needs to be calculated and logical. Children need to know that you are the parent, that your limits stand and that you mean business in a firm but kind, respectful way.

As we all know, staying on a device and playing a game or interacting socially is something that kids really want to do (and we recognize the addictive nature of it all) so if we hope to set effective limits on usage, we have to match that enthusiasm with really working hard to sticking to the limits.

Ideas for successful intervention

  • Hold a Family Meeting and decide on setting the device limits together as a family so each child has their say, feels heard and that their opinion counts for something
  • I would also advise selecting other key areas that you could be more consistent in applying limits to and seeing if this will send a firmer message to your children regarding all limits and not just the ones on their device use.
  • As parents make it clear to your children that you recognize that in the past you may have been a bit loose around adhering to limits but that this is changing now because it is not working well
  • Be completely honest with them and accept your part to play in the current situation not working well and that it is not fair of you to expect them to adhere to limits when sometimes they apply and sometimes they don’t
  • Try to encourage and create times for your children where they have to simply be without a device in hand for example, while in the car or waiting in the dentist office. It would be much easier to give them your phone but if you did that, it sends them the message that you would rather them be quiet and game instead of chat with you or just be with you in silence…..
  • Going forward, say what you mean and mean what you say. Absolutely fundamental to this working is for the times when you say NO that the NO must stand. This certainly makes you think twice about saying NO for the sake of it as those occasions are the ones that are exceedingly hard to follow through on eg: “If you do that one more time we will have to go home”, when there is absolutely no way you can go home! When kids “win”, it sends them a very powerful message for future occasions when you say no – they might not believe you and will hold out for you caving?
  • Use the S.E.T method with your children:

SUPPORT: “I see that you are really upset that the time you set for playing MineCraft is up”

EMPATHY: “I understand how frustrating it must be to have to stop when you are having so much fun”

TRUTH: “You have to stop now as we agreed on this time at the Family Meeting recently. You can play again tomorrow during tomorrows screen time.”

I hope that some of these ideas might help you if you are struggling with limit setting and device use, it is probably one of the hardest ones that all parents face today.

I’ll leave you with this: for all the time when we are glued to our screens we are missing out on the beauty of what real life has to offer us.

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