Creating a Family Screen Time Agreement the Heart-Mind Way


It is not a surprise that surveys done by Common Sense Media[1] confirm that media use among children is on the rise. People are intuitively aware that we are well into the digital age, yet questions remain about the potentially positive and challenging realities of its impact.

Some families are looking for ways to remain mindful and empowered to manage the technologies that have become a part of everyday life. One way to increase awareness of family usage is to create a “screen time agreement.” Family pledges, templates and contracts[2] can be found on the internet that give the basic idea of how a family agreement might be laid out. It is important that the layout and language of this agreement be appropriate to the age of your children.

As you build a family screen time agreement, use a Heart-Mind[3] perspective to create a balance of online and off-line time that fosters respect and meaningful connections among family members. Consider the five qualities of Heart-Mind well-being:

Agreements that promote being Alert and Engaged.

Getting Enough Sleep

Negotiate when digital devices and screens will be turned off and put away for the night. Research suggests shutting things down at least 2 hours before bedtime[4] will lead to increased sleep, allowing each family member to be more alert and engaged. The blue light emitted from devices before bed interferes with sleep cycles. Replace devices with non-screen activities in bedtime routines and keep digital devices outside childrens’ bedrooms.

Bring attention to the body

Discuss the impact that technology time is having on each family member. Encourage every family member to “tune into” their emotional and physical reactions when immersed for lengths of time in a digital experience. What are the clues that your body has had enough screen time and is in need of another form of activity? This discussion can improve self-management of personal technology use.

Agreements that promotes Getting Along With Others

Set Limits

Apply a “no screen zone” for special times of the day such as family meals[5]. This limit will encourage rich face to face interactions and build relationships. Other times might include whenever there is a guest over, during a playdate or when the sun shines and it’s an opportunity to be active outdoors.

Create Time for Digital “Show and Tell”

Talk about the kinds of things each person is exploring online. Even better, take time to explore technology together, and connect with what your child is watching, reading or playing. By participating in each other’s screen and digital use, you can clarify and build on what emotions, thoughts, questions, concerns, and interests[6] your child is discovering.  

Agreements that promote Solving Problems Peacefully  

Anticipate Digital Disagreements

If you choose to monitor your child’s digital use, be honest and upfront about what you are accessing in their accounts and why. Talk about the feelings that arise when devices are monitored and find a balance between safety and trust. Be open to revisiting the agreements as your child grows.

Online Safety is a Must

Decide what to do if cyber bullying or inappropriate photo sharing[7] takes place. This agreement might be evoked if an incident happens directly with a family member or if they witness it happening to someone else. Place safety parameters in place and follow a problem solving approach[8] that creates connective and supportive moments for your family to find ways to “make things right.”  

Agreements that promote being Secure and Calm

Seek Balance

Your digital agreement can foster a balanced approach to technology if you clarify as a family how much screen time is appropriate (and how this may change over time). Discuss and decide what balance looks like and include calming activities that are screen-less (music, nature time, reading, tossing a ball around). Discover together what brings calm to different members in the family.  

Have an “ooops” Plan

Imagine how anxiety provoking it can be for a child (or adult) who accidently comes across an inappropriate website or who participates in an online activity - only to regret it later. Have a plan for “what to do” if a family member finds themselves engaged in any digital activity that leaves them feeling awkward or nervous. Keeping an open, patient and non-reactive presence is key.

Agreements that promote being Compassionate and Kind

Find Compassion Online

Endorse positive and empathy driven online activities (whether videos, games, or websites). These activities will promote kindness and be a catalyst for more innovative ways to use media for the greater good and kindness infused action[10].

Watch for Social Distress

To prevent being swept into the drama that can occur in social media, talk about how personal drama shared online can be a source of distress. Talk about parameters for when and how to write appropriate and supportive posts to friends that may be having a difficult time and brainstorm actions to support friends offline that are healthy and productive.

Be proactive by building an agreement with a Heart-Mind well-being focus! It is never too early or too late to start these conversations and to craft a digital code of conduct that promotes the five positive human qualities.

Common Sense Media is a not-for-profit organization focused on education, outreach programs, advocacy and research to help families make media choices.

Heart-Mind well-being refers to the balance between educating the mind and educating the heart. While there is a great focus in our society on academic achievement, research has demonstrated the positive impacts of developing our hearts - the way we "feel" and "relate to one another". In fact, heart and mind learning are interconnected.


Dr. Lynn Miller, psychologist and researcher at the University of British Columbia, recommends that screens (computers, tv's and tablets) are turned off 2 hours before bedtime for children and youth. Late night exposure to the light emitted from these screens interferes with sleep for people of all ages. 

Research indicates that eating together as a family at least four times a week has positive effects on children’s health and social development. 

Adolescent development research describes the improtance of teens exploring different activities and interests in order toexplore who they are in the world, what they have to offer and what is valued by others. 

Cyber bullying is different from bullying behaviour in person. It can be relentless, 24 hours a day.

Dr. Jenna Shapka, Associate Professor at the University of British Columbia and researcher with examines what it means to grow up in the digital age and the impact on wellbeing.

A simple problem solving approach that can be learned even at a young age is:

  1. How do you feel?
  2. What is the problem?
  3. Come up with solutions.
  4. What would happen if..?
  5. Try the solution & evaluate!

For examples of finding kindness in the media, check out;

  • Secure and Calm

    Secure and calm describes the ability to take part in daily activities and approach new situations without being overwhelmed with worries, sadness or anxiety. To be secure and calm also means being able to cope with stress and pressure, and to bounce back from difficulties.
  • Gets Along with Others

    Getting along with others is the ability to form positive and healthy relationships with peers and adults. Children with better abilities to regulate their emotions and behaviours have more friends and experience more positive playtime with their peers.
  • Alert and Engaged

    Being alert and engaged is the ability to manage and direct one's own feelings, thoughts and emotions. In general, the ability to be 'present' and to exercise self-control.
  • Compassionate and Kind

    Being compassionate and kind is closely related to empathy. While empathy refers more generally to the ability to take the perspective of and to feel the emotions of another person, compassion goes one step further.
  • Solves Problems Peacefully

    Managing conflict effectively is about creating an atmosphere where violence and aggression are not likely. To resolve conflict means using empathy, problem-solving skills, understanding other points of view and coming up with ways to make things right in a fair way.