Question: How does a parent begin to set limitations on tech time where there are none? How does a parent deal with a spike in aggressive, tantrum behaviors due to new limitations?  

Answer: It’s never too late to set some boundaries around technology with the goal of having more time for family, sleep, or other activities.  

With so much technology out there competing for your family’s attention, if you don’t create any boundaries, it’s perfectly expected that screens would dominate your day! It’s not that you need to restrict screens because they’re “bad” – it’s more that you deserve to run your family the way you want to, and not have screens or tech get in the way. 

There’s no perfect way to do this! Our advice is based on a few different studies, particularly this one that asked parents and their children what they thought about different types of tech rules in their home. Interestingly, this study found that the biggest motivator for tech rules was the desire for all family members, regardless of age, to pay attention to one another when in one another's company. So, the need for tech boundaries apply to parents just as much as children. 

There’s an array of tips in the AAP’s Family Media Plan online tool, but we suggest starting with:  

  1. Be proactive rather than reactive. Make a shared plan that you and your family agree to follow – starting with changes that you think are realistic – and checking back in weekly to see how it’s going. 
  2. Keep rules for children and adults reasonably similar (e.g., no tech at the dinner table)– kids get frustrated when they think their parents are being hypocritical!  
  3. Make small changes to start. This might include: 
    1. Putting phones away while in the car, not checking at red lights, and instead talking about what you see out the windows. 
    2. Putting phones and tablets away at dinner, maybe in a shoebox you decorate.  
  4. Keep media use at predictable times of day, such as the morning or afternoons. Kids like predictable routines, and having an expectation that they only use screens at certain times of day makes it less likely they will beg or negotiate for screens throughout the day. If your child initially has resistance, give them choices about what time of day they want OR what show they want to watch/game they will play. It also helps to put the screen routine on a daily schedule or calendar, since some kids are visual learners.  

Keep in mind that parents and children think the easiest rules to follow are ones that:  

  1. Are about the content that the child is allowed to access, 
  2. The child had a part in designing in the first place (so they are more likely to think they are “fair”), or  
  3. Parents enforce supportively rather than punitively.  

If your child shows aggressive or tantrum behaviors when a new limit is placed, you can interpret this as communication that they are frustrated (all behavior is communication, after all). Don’t let the behavior work to get technology back – otherwise the child will keep doing it. Stay as calm as you can, so that you don’t give the child a big reaction, and let your child have a calm-down period. (Kids who have frequent tantrums benefit from a place in their house to calm down safely, like a bean bag chair or small tent in their room). You might need to redirect aggressive behavior (for example, by directing them to punch a pillow, do “grounding” exercises or something else with their body that calms them down).  

Once they have calmed down, let them express their feelings but also gently remind them about why you started setting media limits in the first place. It might also help to have another activity to transition them to at that point, such as looking at books or listening to music, or a shared activity with you – to show the child that boundaries around screens help make room for other things they like to do.  



Age: 3-12 years, Early Childhood, Middle Childhood, Early Adolescence 

Topics: Setting Limits, Tantrums, Handling Big Emotions, Aggression 

Role: Parent/Caregiver 

Last Updated



American Academy of Pediatrics