“You can have screen time when you have done your chores, played outside for half and hour, and done some reading”
I see these types of ‘screen time rules’ pop up a lot, and it seems perfectly reasonable at first glance.
We know that too much screen time is not good for our kids.
We want our kids to do things other than be glued to a screen all day. We want them to do healthy things like reading and exercise and having an actual conversation with the family.
I know we are all struggling to wrap our heads around how all these screens and devices will affect our kids, and how best to manage it all, but we’ve got to stop using screen time as a reward, or a threat.
If you give your kids a long list of things they must do before they can have screens what does that tell them?
That going outside and reading are poorer alternatives to screen time?
That screens are the thing they should want to do most, and those other things are not as cool/interesting/important?
Lets stop setting up reading, or family time, or exercise as the ‘good for you but not as fun’ option against the totally awesome screen time. Let’s stop making screen time seem even more enticing!
So what do we do instead? How do we manage screen time?
My kids love their screens (so do I) but they also love lots of other things like reading, climbing trees, making up elaborate imaginative games, riding their bikes, dancing, playing cards, painting, etc.
Instead of dangling screen time as a reward, as some especially awesome thing that you only get if you’ve done all the other not so awesome things, I want my kids to find a balance and to begin to learn to self regulate.
Right now none of my children are old enough to regulate screen time entirely on their own… so it is my job to help them with that.
I need to teach them that you can use screens and devices to do awesome, creative, fun things, but you can also use them in ways that are not so good for you.
I need to teach them that there is good and not so good to everything, and that you need to be aware of that to make good decisions for yourself.
At ages 5, 8 and 11 my kids need guidance and limits, but they also need information. I feel so strongly that now is the time for me to build a good foundation for screen, device, and internet use. Now, while they are still open to my advice, while they are still listening to my words, while I still have them close much of the time.
So we talk about screen time.
We talk about the good things; like how great it is to have something fun to do when you are stuck waiting somewhere and need to be still and quiet, how cool it is that we can make movies and animations and print stories, how fun it is build a world on Minecraft together or to beat their mother at wii dance (I totally rock the bollywood ones though!)…
We also talk about the bad things; like how you can get sucked into a device and suddenly find hours have disappeared and you have no time left to do other things, how staring at some screens can make it hard to sleep, how it can be easy to come across things you don’t want to see on the internet, how some people use the internet and social media to be nasty, how there is no such thing as privacy online…
We talk about it a lot, and we set limits.
I’m not anti limits for screen time – I just want to make sure I am sending the right message when I set them.
We have guidelines on how they can and can’t use screens and devices and we have limits on when and how long they can use them.
We’re open to discussion on the limits, and we are flexible when we feel it is appropriate, because that’s how kids learn to self regulate.
These are our current screen and device limits:
- No devices after dinner – they seem to have a big effect on two of my kid’s sleep so it’s no small screens after dinner.
- During the week devices and screens are for waiting times, homework, and during their weekly internet time. (We have limited internet where we live so our kids do not have every day access to the internet on any device)
- On week nights we watch TV together if we have time before dinner. (this is usually around 30 minutes each night.)
- Weekends and holidays if we have nothing planned you may have TV, wii, computer or devices in the morning if you want, until Mum or Dad tells you to turn them off.
You might think that last limit is totally unrealistic, but it works really well for us.
Sure, sometimes we cop some whining or complaining when we say it’s time to turn off, but that’s ok. We can either talk about it and come up with a compromise, or it’s a “I know you are not happy about it but there are other things to do today and it’s time to turn it off.”
Yes sometimes the small one cries when I ask him to put the ipad away. He loves the ipad a lot and struggles the most with switching off, but just because he doesn’t like the limit doesn’t mean I don’t set it.
I’m hopeful that by teaching my kids about screens and devices and guiding them towards good habits rather than putting screen time on a pedestal as the ultimate reward that they will be better at self regulating these things as they get older.
Read the comments or scroll down to add your own:
Love it! Our rules for screen time are very similar to yours.
We find the weekends the hardest time to manage…. We have now got an app on the parent devices that allows time restrictions on all internet access set up for all kid devices. That seems to be helping not lose the kids down the weekend Minecraft black hole at the moment :)
Part of our issue IS Minecraft for us. Most of the time, we request that the kids choose a different game if they have been stuck in Minecraft for a little too long!
It probably helps that our kids don’t play Minecraft online (thanks to our crappy rural internet) so it’s actually one of the things I love my kids doing on devices as they almost always collaborate!
But it’s that black hole that is so easy to fall into that we are working on the most with our kids… I know they want to do all the other stuff they like, but I also know how easy it is to lose hours to a screen, hello candy crush! LOL
Meegan – reading your comment – what is that app? I live in Oregon USA, so not sure if that is an Australia only app, but I’d love to know and see if I can research something similar. Minecraft on the computer is the blackhole for my kids too. We have three kids that play Minecraft online and only 2 computers, so not only do they want a turn, but then we have to rotate through so that extends game time even longer (***SCREAM***). Thanks to you and Kate for any and all help!!
Try Disney Circle! It’s magic :)
Hi Kate! This post came at a great time – our last free day and weekend before school starts on Monday and I’m going about my usual routine (CHORES, CLEAN, MAKE BEDS, READ BEFORE ANY GAME TIME!!!) and I see you post. I stopped my requests and let the kids have their tablet time. I’m so set on getting my routines done and making sure I have all things in order for the rest of the day that I forget to “hear” the kids reason behind their whining and complaining. So we are going to try your screen time and device limits for awhile and see if my blood pressure and level of yelling will decrease :) Thank you!!!!
We have a few rules.
On week days no screens or books until you are ready for school completely down to shoes and bag packed.
On weekends no screens before 7am.
You have to take regular breaks and do something else for awhile. (If I need to I set a timer, but generally they are very good.)
No Screens after dinner ever. (This is changing as my eldest is starting to read ebooks)
They are more interesting, exciting, and fun to some people. Your decision to not compare screen time to other activities doesn’t change the fact that screen time is more enticing for some people than any other activity in the world. So I’ll continue to use screen time as a reward. It’s better than playing them with food.
Yes I agree… using an activity as a reward is better than food :)
Emma @ My Family Meals says
You are so right! I’m guilty of using screen time as a bribe/reward and cringle to myself when I think about it. My kids love me to play chasey in the backyard after school with them so I might try to introduce some more activities that are fun like that instead – or baking etc.
My kids go on their devices in the morning when they wake. We’ve tried to enforce a ‘start time’ but it entailed us hiding the device and TV remote from our early riser. (before 6am) Now they have an alarm when they have to switch off in order to get ready for school.
I restrict their use after school, but as we live in Japan and don’t have cable, our devices are our TVs too!
Weekends vary, but generally they go on until we ask them to switch off. This works really well for us, because it means we adults can have a lie in!
Kate- this article has come at a great time as I was just thinking that I should compile one of ‘those lists’ for our summer break, I’m not going to create one now. Instead I’m going to create opportunities to do something other than being on a device and lose the guilt I carry about the time my children spend on their devices.
This is the most sensible, realistic approach I’ve heard to kids screen time. It is very similar to how it runs in our house without conscious thought on my part.
Michelle Contri says
What can I do if my husband only know how to “watch” our 4 yo by giving her his phone or turning on tv ????
He does not do anything else with her at all
Michelle Contri says
And she plays some subway game on his phone ?
That sounds like a tricky situation.
I think you might need to have a chat and let him know why you don’t think this is ok, and see if he can tell you why he manages things this way. How you deal with it will depend on why it’s happening. Good luck!