What to Expect: The Major Inflection Points

Inflection Points

One thing’s for sure about screen time is that it’s not going away.  Be prepared to revisit the topic again and again, as your child cycles through the various life stages, from learning to read, to learning to drive.

With the benefit of hindsight and after many conversations with parents, we can now look back and see a fairly predictable pattern that we want to share with Our Friends. Knowing these typical inflection points, can help you prepare for what’s ahead, and zero in on what you can do before screen time becomes a major problem in your household.

Here’s what to expect…

Babies and Toddlers

The magnetic pull of screens is hard for young ones to resist, and inevitably, your child will make a grab for your phone. You may be surprised to learn that all Apple iOS devices are sold with settings defaulted to allow explicit content, so best to change these from the get go

 The American Academy of Pediatrics Guidelines:

For children younger than 18 months, limit screen use to video-chatting. For 18 to 24 months, parents should choose high-quality programming if they choose to introduce screens and watch it with their children.

Familiarize yourself with the content and privacy settings built-in to your phone before any mishaps. See Our Guides to Apple’s Parental Controls (iOS 11 and iOS 12).  


Children’s fascination with devices continues, sometimes with mesmerizing effect, and so begins the challenges of ‘Parenting Technology.’ At this stage, preschoolers are often sharing devices with other family members, both parents and kids, so setting content restrictions can be tricky.

The American Academy of Pediatrics Guidelines:

Limit screen time to one hour of quality programming. Parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them.

Guided Access: At the most basic level, Apple offers Guided Access. It enables a parent to lock any iDevice to just one app and set time limits.  It helps your child to start developing healthy digital habits and takes less than 5 minutes to set up. See Tech Tip #4

Be sure to block explicit content on any device your child has access to. See Our Guide to Apple’s Parental Controls (iOS 11 and 12). 

Early Elementary

Get ready to start playing Chief Technology Officer for your household! Often when children enter kindergarten, they’re introduced to iPads and apps in the classroom, and many elementary schools integrate online reading and math programs into their curriculum, regularly assigning homework. The push toward technology begins, with many schools oblivious to the impact it has at home, and the pressure it puts on parents.

Not only will you need to have a strategy for keeping track of all of those passwords, but you’ll want to consider the degree of web-access you give your child, whether you restrict your child to specific websites, or allow more freedom to explore.

Many parents are attuned to the needs of their emerging reader, wanting to encourage them and provide ready access to a trove of books. When trips to the library are still not frequent enough to keep apace with your little bookworm, digital readers can be a good solution.

The American Academy of Pediatrics Guidelines

Starting at age 6, screen time guidelines are more open-ended, encouraging families to set limits and to make sure that children get enough sleep, physical activity and time for “other behaviors that promote health.”  The AAP strongly encourages unstructured play time and face-to-face interaction.

  • Set expectations for appropriate device use and complete a Family Agreement in Best Tools
  • Kindle Unlimited can be a good option providing easy access to a trove of books. The Kindle app can be used with any iPad and you can use Guided Access to set time limits if you don’t want to purchase a digital reader.  See Overview of Apple’s Parental Controls 
  • Know how to set parental controls  (Our Screen Time Roadmap will guide you through):


At this point, tweens typically start getting chatty with friends over iMessages. Group texting can take on a life if it’s own, introducing the unfortunate potential for kids to feel left out, or even bullied.

If you haven’t already, you’ll likely want to set up an individual account profile for your child so that you can keep text messages and apps separate. Predictably, your tweens will start telling you that everyone else has a phone (the actual average age when kids get a smartphone is 10.3 years).

Parents begin to feel the effects of this reality, regardless of whether their child is any early adopter. At this stage, you’ll readily realize the degree to which parenting philosophies differ when it comes to screen time and how it can create conflict. The potential for judgment is no less vast than how you should discipline your children and what you should feed them.  

Whenever you decide is the right time to introduce a smartphone, knowing how to set guidelines and controls is the first step. In our experience, we’ve found there are major advantages to a stair-step approach — granting access in stages as compared to turning on the firehose all at once. We have also found imposed separation, limiting iPhones to communication and the iPads to entertainment, particularly helpful in teaching kids how to take a break from their devices.

  • Consider setting parameters around group texting and potentially putting it on hold until your child and their peers have more experience with online communication
  • Set expectations for the degree to which you’ll be monitoring your child’s online activity and complete our Family Agreement 
  • Know how to set parental controls: 
  • Encourage your school to survey student’s technology use, so parents can have insight into the technology habits of their child’s peers. 

Early Teens

At this stage, many teens are interested in social media; in fact, 80% of teenagers use it. YouTube, Snapchat, and Instagram are the most popular platforms and present many challenges for parents, starting with direct messaging, the potential for distraction, and exposure to inappropriate content.  Sexting is also a pervasive concern with 1 in 4 teens reporting they have received a sext message

While you may not like the idea of your teen being on Snapchat, peer pressure can become a major factor. Teens report Snapchat groups start forming when everyone finds out where they’re going to high school, instigating concern over being left out.

Homework is routinely completed online, creating all kinds of issues around distraction–is your teen watching Netflix or tuning into ESPN? Teens are often instructed to watch YouTube videos as part of their assignment, so it’s impractical for parents to block access. And developing research skills is a major part of learning, so the ability to explore the internet is a requirement.

  •   Parents are best-advised to:
    • Familiarize yourself with the functionality of the major social media platforms well before your child expresses an interest.       
    • Limit your child to 1-2 platforms and a total of 30 minutes on each
    • Consider a social media monitoring tool, such as Bark.  Guide icon
    • Consider setting app limits and restrictions during homework time to minimize distractions. 

See Our Roadmaps for Social Media and managing Screen Time. 

Older Teens

At this stage, you’re readying to turn over the reins and put your teen on the path to digital independence. Given that 1 in 2 teens report feeling addicted to their phones, parents want their teens to learn how to self-regulate. During this transitional period, some parents move from enforcing strict time limits, to encouraging their teens to be mindful of how much time they’re spending online.  Apple’s Screen Time offers good insight, and Our TimeWise Calculator can serve up some perspective.  

When teens get their driver’s license, texting and driving becomes a major concern — nearly 40% of teens report texting while driving. With teens frequently on-the-go, some parents feel more assured knowing their teens whereabouts and rely on advanced GPS to track current and historical locations.  

While technology can make it collaboration easy, experienced parents have also shared that the temptation to cheat can run fairly strong. 

  • Use ‘Do Not Disturb While Driving’ to block texting while driving and be sure to set a good example
  • Encourage your teen to be aware of how much time he or she is spending online by using Screen Time features
  • Know how to use Find My iPhone to track your child’s phones
  • Parents can use Our Family Agreement to set expectations around appropriate device use when completing assignments 

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