Solving the Screen Time Battle

Do you remember when screen time just meant laying in front of the TV?

That was the only screen in my house growing up.

Kids’ shows came on for a few hours in the afternoon and tv binging as we knew it was sitting through “Saturday Disney” for 2 hours on a Saturday morning before heading out to Saturday sport. At one point those kid shows ended and we all just got on with our day.

How many screens do you have in your house?

We have 8 which includes our smart phones.  Eight screens.  Eight possibilities to lose track of time, do email, play that game, look at Facebook, and do some tweeting.  Sometimes I feel like it’s public enemy number 1 in our parenting world. 

As a parent of Tweens, screens compete for my kids attention every single day and cause me more stress than I ever thought possible. Not only are screens used for fun and relaxation, they’re used for listening to music, checking in with friends, researching a school project and practicing maths. And with more and more schools introducing iPads, laptops, and electronic whiteboards it’s not going to get any easier. 

So what exactly is a parent supposed to do? 

I personally hate being put on the spot by my kids daily, so we created together a basic list of screen rules:

  • No gaming during the week

  • TV only on Wednesday evenings and on weekends

  • No screens at mealtimes

  • No screens in the bedroom.

  • Unlimited screen time on 24-hour flights to Australia

Photo by  JESHOOTS.COM  on  Unsplash

Don’t get me wrong—transitioning to those rules was like having kids in detox.  But it didn’t last long at all, and the effort was well worth it.  Those rules definitely cut some of the stress.  Our kids know the expectation, and I never have to fight with an iPad for their attention during dinner (nor do they ask).

However, at some point the kids will need to take the reins and set their own reasonable rules for screen time.  I can’t be looking over their shoulders forever.  And I don’t want the kids to move out of the house and then suddenly, enraptured with their newfound freedom, become iPad hermits.

The question is:  how can I expect them to be able to navigate this new path when I myself have a hard enough time putting down my own device?

It does give me a bit of solace to think that I am probably not the only parent who gets lost in the instagram rabbit hole or who binge watches too many episodes of The Crown. But I'm ready for a change too. 

My primary concerns are that I need to demonstrate what I expect from my kids.  I need to show them that technology is a great tool, and it can be a great addition to other entertainment and social interactions, but that it’s not the only choice .....

Intentional Screen Time

The idea is simple, before agreeing to allow my kids (or myself) to sit in front of the computer, pick up the phone, or turn on Netflix, first we must define and agree exactly for how long we want to engage with the screen: 

  • I will use instragram for the next 20 minutes

  • I will watch no more than 2 Netflix episodes in a row

  • I will stop playing Minecraft after 30 minutes.

This next part is important:  Set a timer.  And then enjoy guilt-free.

The timer is the key here—for me and the kids.  The timer frees me from the image of being the big bad wolf coming in telling them that it’s time to get off their devices because it becomes the timer’s fault.  And no longer will any of us lose track of time.  Remember, our kids will do as we do—not as we say. 

Photo by  Katarzyna Kos  on  Unsplash

Technology is here to stay.  So we’re going to put a leash on it.  We won’t vilify it, we’ll just put it in its place.  I’ll let you know how our experimenting works out.

How do you balance screen time in your family without it becoming a huge problem? Have you found a method that works for you?