Screen Time: What’s Working in Our Home
On the list of things that make me feel inadequate as a parent, managing screen time and all things online ranks pretty high. I’ve often said we live in a great day and age for information, research, and education, but it can be incredibly overwhelming. There are so many articles citing studies about the dangers of too much screen time (our kids’ brains are being re-wired!), the reality of cyber-bullying, the accessibility of porn… and then there are all the apps. It’s impossible to keep up, and it seems there’s danger lurking everywhere! It’s tempting to consider eliminating screens altogether, but we wanted our kids to learn how to navigate the world of screens well.
As parents, we all land somewhere on the spectrum between permissive and restrictive when it comes to screens and internet access. I believe every family has to make choices based on their beliefs and unique needs and lifestyle. I also believe there is no cookie-cutter approach. What works in my home may not be what works in your home. I do think we’d all agree, though, that limits and protections are needed as our kids navigate a world that didn’t exist when we were kids.
We chose to get iPods for our children when they turned eight (some of their peers had iPods in kindergarten and grade 1). We found they were using our phones to play games and take pictures a lot, and they were outgrowing their Leapster devices (which were well loved as pre-schoolers and even into grades 1 and 2). With their iPods, they can text and FaceTime with grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins who live in Saskatchewan. They even text with a former babysitter who’s going to school in Manitoba! It’s a great way to stay connected with loved ones who live far away. They can also take their own pictures and videos – our oldest loves recording tutorials! Of course, they listen to music and play games, all on one device. I like the fact that they can’t download anything from iTunes or the App Store without my approval. We are aware that internet access brings a host of potential dangers, which brings me to my first main point:
We invested in Circle*, a device that works through our home’s wi-fi and is controlled with an app on my phone. Each wi-fi connected device in the home is detected by Circle, and I assign it to an individual in the home. Filters are assigned based on each individual’s age and can be customized. Circle monitors app usage, tracks time spent online, filters content, and lets me set individualized time limits and bedtimes. I can even pause wi-fi for a single user or the entire home! There are other features I haven’t used yet, but I just love knowing that my kids can’t sneak on to their devices in the middle of the night and watch who knows what on YouTube. Of course, they could use apps that don’t require wi-fi, so it’s still necessary that I remain involved and aware of what they’re doing, but Circle* gives me some peace of mind and a great deal of control!
Figure out your family’s screen time rules
In our home, screen time is usually earned. There are exceptions, of course, but most days they have to do a certain number of chores before they get screen time. There are plenty of days where they don’t earn screen time at all! They are often so tired after school that they just want to play and not do chores – for now, I’m fine with that. We’re working on daily chores that must be done regardless of screen time, but it’s slow going and that’s okay. Other families we know have built in screen time as part of the daily routine no matter what. A friend of mine homeschools and she finds that they all need the down time towards the end of the afternoon. We’ve experimented with a variety of combinations and rules, but this is what’s working for us right now:
Plan for transitions
Some kids struggle more with transitions than others, and we have one who really struggles! We’ve had the most success when we plan ahead, instead of just reacting when they don’t do what we ask. Go figure! We try to make sure they’re taking movement breaks and getting enough to eat and drink. We also try to stay on top of what they’re doing and make sure they’re not starting a new episode on Netflix or a new level of a game 5 minutes before the end of screen time. As we get closer to the end of screens, we encourage them to choose something they can quit more easily. We like to make the transition appealing by having fun with it (we’ve pretended that a certain basket is hungry and it only eats iPods, so they have to feed it) and offering them something in trade for their devices, such as a sucker, gum, snacks, or a drink. We might also plan a fun activity to do together, such as jumping on the trampoline or taking the dogs for a walk.
Be persistent and consistent, yet flexible
Successful screen time isn’t always easy. I’ve certainly put up with a lot of complaining about the chores! But we stuck with it and they don’t usually put up too big of a fuss because they’re familiar with the expectation. Be consistent with whatever parameters you’ve set up. You’ll be glad you persisted! If it’s not working, change it up. Get creative. Ask others what’s working for them. Navigating screens is a work in progress, so don’t give up! In the book No Drama Discipline*, Siegel and Bryson talk about the danger of becoming too rigid with our rules. We want to be consistent yet flexible, willing to compromise and able to respond to individual needs while staying true to our goal of healthy limits. Holidays and weekends may require different sets of rules than school days. Certain seasons may come along that call for more or less screen time. Sometimes we take extended breaks from screens, other times we let them have a lot more than usual.
Engaging in conversations with our kids about what they’re doing online is crucial. They need to know we are interested in whatever interests them, and they also need to know we will check up on them. I endure long explanations of what they’re building in Minecraft so that I can ask if they’ve been approached by someone they don’t know, or come across nudity or bad language. Regular conversations about what they’re doing should be routine so that when they do encounter inappropriate content online, it will feel normal to discuss it with us. I know I could be a lot more proactive in this area!
Model healthy habits
They say what our kids learn is more caught than taught… So I have to ask myself – how healthy am I with screen time? Am I easily distracted by my phone when I’m with the kids? Am I irritable when they interrupt something I’m doing on the computer? Do I look at my phone during mealtimes when I’ve asked them to set their devices aside?? Our family’s therapist reminded me recently that kids can easily feel disconnected and isolated when parents are spending time on their phones instead of engaged with them. She suggested leaving our phones in a different room when we’re home with the kids. That’s something I’m going to work on!
Navigating the online world is complex and challenging! We’re rooting for you, and we’d love to hear from you! What’s working in your home? Which tools and strategies do you recommend? What would you add to this discussion?
*Denotes Affiliate Link – see Disclosure page