“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.