When to Punish and Reward Kids with Screen Time

Sep 01, 2016

It would be a gross understatement to say that technology has affected, or at the very least influenced, the way we parent. If anything, technology has created a complicated dimension to establishing a consequence and reward system for kids. Perhaps the most difficult part of this is understanding how, and when, to factor technology time into your parenting efforts.

Age and situationally appropriate

As the parent of a four-year-old, taking away technology time is an effective form of punishment at this age, as is doling it out as a reward. While all of the apps my four-year-old uses are educational, they’re still a lot of fun! And, as a member of this up-and-coming generation, he’s already technology obsessed. When my four-year-old breaks the rules, his consequence is to lose tablet time...and it works. On the flip side, I also award tablet time, in fifteen minute increments, for a job well done. For a tween or teen, however, this may not be as effective or appropriate.

Your teen’s connection to the outer world is through technology, so completely taking away their connective device effectively removes them from social outlets...at a time when social life and social standing is of the utmost importance.

If you’ve tied technology time into a reward system for kids, make sure that the punishment is equal to the offense. Too often, parents of teens are inclined to take away a device completely, when a simple ‘grounding’ from specific social media platforms makes more sense. If your child’s infraction involves online behavior, target the area or platform where the misbehavior occurred. If the offense is related to texting, then remove those privileges, but not the entire device. Reacting with an overly harsh punishment can serve to sever the relationship between you and your child, which is the last thing you want to happen.

What you’re taking away

I vividly remember being sent to my room as a consequence for bad behavior. An avid reader, I was happy to be locked in my room with my personal library, spending those room-grounding hours exploring the worlds of my books. It didn’t take long for my parents to realize that their punishment was not punishment at all, but rather allowing me to delve deep into my introversion; from then on, when I was sent to my room as punishment, I was not allowed to read -- that was true torture.

When you take away technology time, realize what it is that you’re taking away. A child’s tablet, computer or smartphone is their connection to the outside world, the tool they use to socialize, interact with friends, and, more significantly, find their place in the world around them. Thus, taking away technology is, in essence, cutting them off from the outside world, a form of grounding in the new millennium


When you take away your teen’s cell phone, you’re enforcing consequences to their actions, whatever they may be. What most parents don’t think about are the consequences to their parent-child relationship. The backlash from confiscating a smartphone can be great, and may actually serve to sever the relationship between child and parent.

Do you want your actions to result in a teen who sneaks around behind your back, a teen who hides information from you? Communication is key, as is establishing a contract for responsible technology use. If you wish to establish technology use as a reward system for kids, then communicate that before issuing your teen a smartphone, tablet or computer. If you’re using a cell phone reward, work with your teen to establish expectations, as well as consequences. By involving your teen in the process, they’re exercising responsibility and a thorough understanding of the rules of engagement. Should a rule be broken, the consequence you enforce will be one that was mutually agreed upon beforehand. Enforcing screen time limits has never been easier with parental control software that includes online time management options. Net Nanny, for example, allows parents via remote access to limit internet access during designated hours or to pause the internet entirely.


The promise of technology time can be a great motivator, especially for families who allot a very strict or specific amount of time on devices daily. With younger children, as in my case, I reward cleaning-up room/playroom, getting dressed and brushing teeth with 30 minutes of screen time. If my kiddo helps without asking (setting the table, etc.), I reward him with 15 minutes of screen time.

With older children, this can be a little tricky, especially when so many schools now require students to complete assignments online. What you can do is to reward technology time after homework is completed (this can be a great motivator in getting homework done right after school), or leave an ongoing chore list, awarding screen time for chores your teen takes care of. The emphasis should be placed on taking care of real life responsibilities before heading into their virtual lives.

As much as we don’t want to admit it, technology is here to stay. If parents fight it, they risk putting their children at a distinct disadvantage, and limiting the incredible amount of education that comes along with using technology responsibly. Those parents who choose to embrace technology can establish guidelines and create a reward system for kids based upon their adherence to family rules; break those rules and suffer the consequences.