How to reset screen time for kids in 3 days

By: Beatrice Moise

A cognitive specialist shares her tips for a quick digital detox to help kids ease off screens and improve self-regulation.

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Child dancing and listening to music during reduced screen time

For kids, a holiday vacation—or a stretch of sick days—can mean a lot more screen time. But too much can lead to a different kind of stress: Dopamine letdown. This can happen anytime you get too much of a good thing. Dopamine is a hormone that’s released when you anticipate something good. So if watching movies and playing games online feels good, the brain releases dopamine in anticipation of those good feelings. But if the expected thing doesn’t happen, it can cause a mood swing. And for kids, that can show up as a headache or feeling drained even if they never left the couch.

A reset can help both kids and parents ease off those relaxed screen time rules over a holiday or vacation. Your immediate goal is to help them find the off-screen activities that feel just as good as their time on screens. And the actions you take now can help them learn how to self-regulate in the future.

Here’s how to reduce screen time.

Pick a day to start the reset.

First, pick the day you want to be back to a more limited screen time—for example, on Sunday. Plan to start the reset three days before that.

Then, talk together about how to reduce screen time. Explain the benefits of a balanced screen-time schedule, like spending more time together as a family or with friends. When you make the plan together, you can also create a home environment that’s based on mutual respect and sets the tone for a relationship well into adulthood.

Finally, make a list of activities the kids can do instead of screen time during (and after) the reset. For example:

  • Take a walk outside

  • Do some chores

  • Listen to music

  • Play a game

  • Read a book 

Day One: Cut screen time in half.

This will be the most challenging day. It can be a dramatic shift to go from three hours of screen time, for example, to one. Plan to fill the day with some of the activities you talked about together and that you know they enjoy.

Day Two: Cut screen time in half again.

Cut that reduced time in half again. And plan to fill the day with things they want to do.

Day Three: Down to no screen time, or less than one hour.

Screen time is down to nothing or one hour. The good news is that you’ve already dealt with the worst of it in days one and two. By now, the dopamine receptors are anticipating those off-screen feel-good activities you’ve been doing over the last two days.

Try these age-specific strategies for success.

Kids at different stages of development and ages may need more specific strategies to help with their screen-time reset. Here’s how to reduce screen time for kids at different ages and stages of development.

Young children (ages 3–8): Children this age need help finding things to do. Create screen-free places around the house and set up an art room, a reading room or a space to do puzzles. You can also ask them to help with chores around the house.

Go deeper: How to create a stress-free screen-time schedule for kids

Preteens (ages 9–12): This age group starts to test boundaries and will likely fight the reset, but they’re still in the developmental stage of wanting to spend time with you and need your direction. Children this age can do chores with little to no help but will not necessarily initiate cleaning their room without a prompt, like swapping out screens for a smart speaker in the evenings to listen to music until bedtime.

Go deeper: How to outsmart screen time for a better bedtime routine

Teenagers and adults (ages 13–18): Teens are more independent, which can make the reset a challenge, but direction is still needed. By this age, your kids have learned your habits and may not take you seriously if you’re inconsistent. Consistency and follow-through are essential in this age group. For example, consider moving screens out of the bedroom.

Go deeper: Screens, teens and sleep

Remember, this isn’t punishment.

The three-day reset should not be used as a form of discipline. Doing this will decrease its efficacy for teaching proper tech behavior. A reset is a tool to help children learn to moderate their own tech usage over their lifetime.

Cut back screen time with Smart Family.

About the author:

Beatrice (Bea) Moise, M.S., BCCS., is a Board-Certified Cognitive Specialist, parenting coach, national speaker, and author of Our Neurodivergent Journey. Her UNIQUE parenting channel on YouTube is dedicated to educating individuals on neurodiversity.


The author has been compensated by Verizon for this article.

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