Black father and boy browsing laptop in room
photo: Keira Burton

The working parent’s guide to screen time

Principles, practices and parental controls that keep kid tech in check

How do screen time struggles affect our experience of hybrid work? That’s the subject of the latest Thrive at Work newsletter. Read (and subscribe) here.

But screen time can also be your greatest adversary as a remote-working parent — if screen struggles lead to meltdowns, behavioral issues and conflicts that are exhausting and destabilizing for the whole household.

That’s the struggle we’ve had in our own household, and it’s led me to reconsider, revise and update a lot of the tech parenting strategies and parental controls I have written about over the years. In the past year, this shift has produced great results: Where we used to have constant conflicts over screen time, and an autistic kid who was gaming 70 or 80 hours each week, our home has entered a period of unprecedented calm — and our son now spends something like 60 or 70 hours a week reading (yes, still on screen), and only 5 or 10 hours a week gaming.

That shift is only partly the result of a change in how we manage devices and screen rules — but our revised approach to screen time was a foundational element of the behavior plan that has led to a year of breakthroughs, a dramatically happier and healthier kid, and a much calmer family life. So I want to distill what we figured out through this process, in order to offer other families some principles, parenting tactics, screen rules and parental control tips that could transform the way screen time affects your kids, too.

If you’re just looking for the nuts and bolts of implementing parental controls — including a whole bunch of tech tricks I’ve figured out over the years — then feel free to skip ahead to the parental controls section, which is the longest part of this post. But I must note that if I could do it all over again, I’d spend less time figuring out all this parental controls stuff, and more time asserting (and backing up) my parental authority. This brings me to first principles.

First principles

Laughing black mother and daughter browsing modern laptop in kitchen
photo: Monstera

Parenting tactics

Mother talking with small daughter in bedroom
photo: Tatiana Syrikova

Screen rules

snapshot of screen rules posted on our bulletin board
snapshot of our current screen rules

Parental controls: What we use now

snapshot of the parental control apps on my iphone
the parental control tools I access on my iPhone

Parental controls that work

screenshot of iOS screentime settings
The key settings we use in iOS Screen Time.

Final notes

kids dressed like business people and working at a desk on computer and phone
photo: Gustavo Fring

For more strategies and tech tips on how to balance work and family when you’re working from home, subscribe to my Thrive at Work newsletter.

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Alexandra Samuel

Speaker on hybrid & remote work. Author, Remote Inc. Contributor to Wall Street Journal & Harvard Business Review. https://AlexandraSamuel.com/newsletter