It seems like every chance they get, my children choose screentime activities over playing with toys or going outside. Granted, between being away from home from 8 am until 6 pm Monday through Fridays, little time is left for them to dedicate to such activities anyway. It’s mostly during the weekends that I have to play referee to make sure everyone is getting their fair share of screentime.
Even still, I have a few ways that I control how much screentime my school age children are getting. What works in my house might not work for your own, and it’s best to establish rules that are in line with how your household is run.
All of my methods are a work-in-progress and there are times when I have to reevaluate these rules to make sure they are still working for our family. I recommend you do the same, not only with screentime rules, but with all household rules in general. As my children get older, I find that some rules become irrelevant while new rules need to be established. Who knew motherhood required so many rule changes?
Here are a few ways I control how much screentime my children are exposed to:
Way #1: Limit (or restrict) the use of devices.
Smartphones: My number one rule has always been (and probably will always be) that no one is allowed to play on my phone.
When smartphones became popular and I noticed how quickly other children would pitch a fit over using their parent’s device, my husband and I agreed that we did not want that headache. My children already nag me enough and I didn’t want to add to the list a power struggle over my device.
I will have to disclose that my husband and didn’t start using smartphones until 2012 or 2013, but that didn’t stop my children from trying to ask if they could play on dad’s new phone when it arrived. My children had already gotten used to playing on our extended family members’ devices when we’d visit with them, and, to this day, the phrase, “Can I play on your phone?” is regularly asked of them. On rare occasions, such as lengthy car rides, I will allow my children to use my phone to play Frozen Freefall, but they know not to ask me for my device on a daily basis.
Tablets: My oldest just turned nine and we gifted him a Samsung Galaxy Kids tablet for his birthday last year. Prior to having a tablet, he owned a Leapster Explorer (the older one) and he was never limited on how much time he spent playing on that because all the games were educational.
The main reason we selected a kids tablet was because of the ability to use the device in a Kids Mode. I can select and change, at any time, which apps he can have access to within the kids mode settings. This was important to us because we didn’t want our son to have complete access to Google and the whole wide web, plus we wanted to control the apps that were downloaded on the device, too. He doesn’t have access to the Google Play store, Email, Facebook, and other social networks. My husband and I feel like he doesn’t need all that extra stuff yet. However, when he is old enough, we will unlock those apps for him.
Game Consoles: When my son was six, he started playing Disney’s Cars on the Xbox 360. I quickly learned that he was easily consumed with the game and would give me a hard time when his time was up. At one point, he used to sneak into the living room in the middle of the night and play. His behavior kinda shocked me, actually. I never expected tantrums when it was time to turn off the game. After trial and error, I learned the trick to avoiding his tantrums (for him, that meant shorter gaming sessions). As he got older, his gaming sessions got a little longer, but not much. Regardless, my son knows that if he asks to play and I give him a time limit, that he must abide by the time limit or else his gaming privilege will be revoked. (Notice how he has to ask me permission to play first? This is so that I can bribe him to do a household task or chore first – if he didn’t already complete his chores. Win-win.)
The tablet that my son owns has built in time-limit settings, but it’s not flexible enough for our needs. I use Screentime instead. It allows me to set a daily time-limit for days of the week, and a different time-limit for the weekends. It also allows me to lock the tablet during school hours and/or bedtime hours. The app has a free trial period, and after that it’s only a few bucks per month. Plus, parents can control the settings through an app on their own Android device or by logging in on your computer.
It even has a pause function that works wonders for when dinner is ready and you want to get your child off their device quickly. When you hit pause on your end, it freezes up their device for the period of time that you set it to freeze for. Awe-some!
My son’s tablet is limited to 2 hours during weekdays and 3 and a half hours during weekends. Most days, he doesn’t use up all that time. The app also blocks him out of all apps (except BrainPop and Nook) at 8:45 pm and the tablet locks up for the night at 9:30 pm.
The best part about this app is how it eliminates the struggle of asking him to get off his tablet. The app takes care of that for me. He just can’t argue with a locked tablet.
Way #3: Create times when screentime is prohibited.
About 30 minutes before bedtime, I try not to let my children watch television. And since my son’s tablet locks up for the night and doesn’t wake up until 7:00 am, he can’t sneak on in the middle of the night to get a quick fix of Hill Climb Racing.
I try not to allow screentime before bed because I want my kids to wind down for the night so they fall asleep quicker. This rule is one of those trial-and-error things. Some children can wind down watching tv before bed. For my kids, reading before bed works best. I also play relaxation music on Pandora to help set the mood, too.
I also prohibit screentime while we are eating dinner.
On Sundays, I try to remind my kids that we cannot play on any devices. Basically, if they want to do an activity that isolates them from the rest of the family, I won’t allow it on Sundays. We try and do activities together as a family on Sunday. This includes prohibiting my own activities, such as blogging, checking Facebook, Twitter, etc. By doing so, I’m role modeling for my children, and really, the best way to teach your children how to limit screentime is to limit it yourself.
If you’re forever telling them to get off and do something in the real world, but they only see you tethered to your own device, they are going to get mixed messages.
Bonus screentime tip: Ditch cable and satellite TV in favor of streaming only services.
No more mindless channel surfing and watching out of boredom in my family because we don’t have cable or satellite. (Technically, we could do that with Sling TV, but we don’t). If my kids want to watch a television show, they have to pick which program they want to watch from our options on Hulu or Netflix. They can’t record programs on the DVR anymore and collect a library of stuff that they don’t have any time to watch anyway. I felt like the DVR library only grew and grew and served as a reminder that we wanted to watch way more television than we had time for, so unplugging from cable freed up screentime clutter.
Thankfully, the above methods work great in my house and help to keep arguments to a minimum. I must also note that my children don’t own cell phones, so these rules will be tweaked when we cross that bridge. In the meantime, my husband and I will continue to do our best to make sure our children are experiencing a healthy balance of screentime and real-life activities.
We feel as though these early years are foundational and we want to make sure that our children continue to develop and mature in the ways that they are supposed to socially and academically. Hopefully, our attempts to limit screentime now will have a positive effect on their future, even if we currently get occasional complaints from them about it.
The tricky thing about parenting today is having to decide which technological advances to embrace and which ones to reject, all without having a role model to look up to because these situations weren’t an issue for our own parents. I’m sure when television sets starting popping up in households in the 50s and 60s, parents had to adjust to that new distraction, too. That being said, I think there will always be parenting hurdles that parents in generations before didn’t have to deal with and parents will always have to figure out what is the best way to handle those situations.
The best you can do is your best and hope for the best. Right?