Winning the iPad War: Parenting Tips for Kids’ Technology Use this Summer

Summer is upon us! Baseball and bike rides. Swimming and scooters. Shooting hoops and hide and seek with neighbors. Ice cream, sun tea and watermelon! IPads and videos games! Wait…WHAT??

Some parents are singing praises and hallelujahs due to freedom from homework and school responsibilities. Other parents are lamenting the lack of schedule and routine those very things bring. But one thing nearly all parents seem to agree on is the challenge and difficulty managing their children’s technology use presents. Let’s be honest. Trying to set and maintain boundaries around use of technology can set off World War 3 in some homes. And the battle only intensifies when there is more free time for a young one to manage. The dangers of too much tech are bigger and go beyond an inactive child laying about the house. Too much tech negatively impacts mood, brain development, and social skill development just to name a few. (For more information on how technology impacts children and teenagers, click here. And to watch my talk on Discipleship in the Digital World, click here.)

So before summer begins to slip away, here are some tips and tricks for setting up success in managing technology in the home with  children.

First of all, it is right and reasonable to set limits. Technology is a privilege. It is not abusive to take it away or to limit it in any way. I’ve frequently had parents express sadness and dismay at the constant battles they have with children over technology. Parents grow weary of always being the “bad guy” who says no to requests to play video games or watch videos on the iPad.

But fighting the constant battles and being willing to continue to say no may be the most loving thing you do as a parent.


So don’t be afraid to set limits (even with teenagers) and to stick to them! Keeping the wireless router in a locked room and frequently changing wireless and device passwords are two ways to make managing tech usage more manageable.

Second, make screen time something that must be earned each day instead of an expectation of every day. Although the relaxed schedule of summer is often a welcomed relief from the rigidity of the school year, children still need routine. Develop a daily schedule that must be followed and expectations that must be met before any technology time is earned. Below is an example:

Daily Routine Before Tech:

  1. Get dressed and ready for the day.
  2. Make bed, eat breakfast, and complete your daily chore.
  3. Be creative for 20 minutes (draw, build with legos, play pretend).
  4. Read or practice math facts for 20 minutes.
  5. Play outside for an hour.

Completing the routine does not need to guarantee tech time. Remember, it is still a privilege and not a right! It is also possible to allow children to earn additional screen time by being completing additional chores or being helpful or kind to a family member. For teenagers, I recommend their daily routine (which may also include getting dressed, completing a chore, and being active in some way) be completed before they earn their cell phone for the day.

Third, only allow technology to be utilized for 30-40 minutes at a time before switching to a non-tech activity. Even if a child has earned 60 minutes of screen time, break it up to prevent addictive tendencies. This is obviously not possible with teenagers who have their own cellphone, but their use can still be monitored and managed based on when they are allowed to have access to their phone.  Most children are on screens much more than what is recommended. Research has shown the average screen time per day for 5 year olds is approximately 4.5 hours and the average for children 6-18 years old is over 8 hours. Below are the American Pediatric Association daily recommendations for screen time, which are well below those averages.

  • 0-2 years old – no screen time
  • 3-5 years old – 1 hour per day
  • 6-12 years old – 90 minutes per day
  • 13-18 years old – 2 hours per day

Fourth, invite children into high interest non-tech activities. While I do not want parents to feel any unnecessary pressure to be an activities director (kids really should be encouraged to find their own fun whenever they complain of boredom), it is often helpful to create several fun family activities per week that pique a child’s interest. Don’t overthink this! A family bike ride to go get ice cream treats.

Inviting the children to help make dinner. Turning on the sprinkler and running through it with them.

Joining them in a special craft project. Taking the time to teach them a new age-appropriate skill such as sewing or learning how to care for the garden or help with a household project. More often than not, children long to have their parents’ attention and will take it in any form.

Fifth, establish “tech free times and zones” in your home. Growing up my family had a “no tv” day each week and although I HATED it, I knew it was good for me. For one thing, it introduced me to the concept of fasting and I once heard the saying, “Anything you cannot fast from owns and controls you.” We need to exercise self-control and practice fasting from anything that has the potential to own and control us, and that certainly includes our various technologies! So while I strongly recommend instituting a tech free day per week, at minimum there should be places and times within your family’s daily and weekly rhythm that are restricted from technology.

For example, meal times should be free of all technology. It is also recommended that any screen time ends at least one hour before bed and not begin until at least one hour after waking in the morning. Sometimes meal times are not as regular during the summer and so explore what will work best for your family. Perhaps “tech free time” consists of the hour immediately following all family members returning home at the end of the day. Perhaps Sunday morning, including church through Sunday lunch is tech free. Children’s bedrooms should always be tech free zones, especially for teenagers. Cellphones, laptops, and tablets should be turned over to parents prior to going to bed and should not be in a teen’s room at night.

Finally, be prepared to model the relationship with technology you are wanting to foster in your children. Remind your children (and yourself) that the rules are not because you are “anti-technology” but because you love them, value relationship with them, and want what is best for them. This is especially important when developing boundaries with teenage children. They want and deserve to know the why behind all of the rules. If the dinner table is a “tech free zone” be sure you abide by this rule as well!

What other tips and tricks have you discovered work for limiting screentime in the summer? The most important thing parents and adults can do regarding technology use and children is simply share with and support one another!

A word for graduates, a lesson for all of us


Graduation season is upon us. It’s that weird season of both endings and beginnings, of both tears and smiles, and of both sadness and excitement. I must admit that I teared up as I stood outside the field house and watched past students exit in their caps and gowns with their degrees in hand and their future before them. I remember these times in my own life vividly. I am not someone who likes change and yet graduation was such a tangible symbol of the previously unseen work poured into exams and assignments the previous four years. Each commencement was filled with such an intense mixture of bittersweet emotion – joy and pride at the accomplishment, excitement for what the future held, and sadness at having to leave the place I’d called home for so long. Some of my peers experienced only sweetness as the previous four years had not been as kind to them as it had been to me and the day it was all over with simply couldn’t come soon enough.


It’s also the season of, “What are you doing after graduation?” A question dreaded by all but by none more than those who just don’t know yet. I guess I was one of the fortunate ones. I always had an answer to this question. But having an answer is much different than being confident in the direction the answer is taking you. And as I work with high school and college students, that’s the sentiment I hear expressed most often. Students ask me, “How am I supposed to know what to do when I don’t even know who I am?”

The field of psychology often talks about “identity development”. I’m more interested in character development than identity development. Identity isn’t developed, it’s discovered. Your identity has already been imprinted on your heart by God, your Father and Creator. It needs to be discovered because over time our identity is buried – buried by our own sins of greed and pride, buried by fear, buried by others’ expectations of us, buried by pain – just to name a few. In the midst of trying to discover my own identity, a professor told me, “Decide what you are passionate about. Identify a need in the world around you. Then find the point where those two intersect. There you will find your purpose and calling in life.”


Those wise words changed my life. I began to realize that my passions and preferences are part of what makes me uniquely me. And it is true of you as well… follow your dreams as they are likely God given! So often fear and insecurity cause us to make practical choices, the safe choices, but not always the God-ordained choices. We follow our head and our fear instead of our heart and God’s lead. And we are left uninspired and unfulfilled as a result.

So to any recent or future graduates longing to uncover your identity and God’s plan (or really anyone experiencing a holy discontentment with their life), may I urge you to first be bold and courageous. Forget convention and do not give into fear. Stop worrying about what you are “supposed” to do and focus only on what God is calling you to do. Want to know your true identity? Ask the Creator. He knows each and every detail of every masterpiece He’s ever made. He knows how to uncover the places that have been covered. He knows how to make the dark areas part of the beautiful whole. He knows how to make your heart sing and soar. He knows you inside and out and if you trust Him and follow Him, you’ll not only discover your own God given identity, but you’ll also find God.

“I love those who love me,
    and those who seek me find me.” Proverbs 8:17 NIV

Throwback to graduation from Fuller in 2008. Finally, Dr. Cleveland, YES!