This week, I’m tying together the themes of our last two posts with a personal example of how we are approaching screen time via observation without judgment in our household. I hope you find our family phone time check-in anecdote helpful if you are navigating a tricky relationship with your own devices or have kids that either have them or will soon. 

The Truth is in Tracking

We often speak about the benefits of tracking. It’s an easy entry point for change because it simply involves developing awareness of what is actually happening. In January, I introduced the family phone check-in to track how we each interact with our devices. So far, we’ve learned a lot.

The Parameters

At first, I wasn’t sure what to track. It took a few iterations to develop a tracking system that provided valuable information. We now track the following:

  1. Screen Time: We look at the previous week’s average. Since our family meeting is on Tuesdays, looking at the current week would only include Monday and Tuesday, which isn’t a true picture. 
  2. Top 3 Apps: These are the apps we use the most. On an iPhone, this information is shown under screen time. Tracking the top three apps helps us set screen limits for ourselves and the kids. As popular apps and games change, this gives us insight into what is drawing us to our phones.
  3. Pick-ups: This metric tells us how many times a day we pick up our phones, unlock the screen, and open an app. We’ve noticed that pick-ups are highly correlated to notifications. By turning off notifications, we can reduce unnecessary pick-ups. My top app is usually Messages because I primarily communicate via text. Instead of turning off notifications, I customized my work modes to avoid missing messages from my husband, kids, or their schools, while blocking out everything else. This has helped me cut down on pick-ups. Here is a simple tutorial for an iphone to see all of the above.

Getting Buy-in

You can imagine the eye-rolling that accompanied this experiment. The kids went along with it because it wasn’t about pointing fingers at them; it was about all of us. Parents had to fess up too. The eye-opening discovery was that my husband and I were spending more time on our phones than our kids. Recalibrating our relationship with our phones has become a family affair. We observe, joke, but there are no punishments or strict rules.

Some Limits

When we gave the kids phones, we reserved the right to implement app limits and screen time limits, and asked them not to sleep with their phones in their rooms. It’s been encouraging to see them set their own screen time limits when they notice they’re spending more time than they’d like. There’s a general acceptance that screen time should be limited. Plus, they feel happy and proud when they beat their previous week’s numbers. 


This experiment has been about not only tracking but also sharing the tracking with my family. It allows us all to see what everyone else is doing and come up with suggestions and solutions. We’ve moved from a dialogue of “you’re on your phone too much” to “I’m on my phone this much, and this is what I’m doing.” While there’s still work to be done, it’s a good start.