If you’re struggling to find the right balance for your family, here are ways to limit screen time for your kids (that don’t involve totally unplugging)!
When you’re as angsty about screen time as I am, you talk to a lot of moms about it. Here are the ones at the extremes:
1. The mom who says heck yeah, her kids are on screens–a lot. “How would I ever get anything done otherwise?” she asks you, like you are a crazy person.
2. The mom who says they don’t even own a television (she may or may not say this loudly enough so that all mothers around her are sure to hear). And even if they did own a television, her child would be too busy reading The Little Prince in its original French to bother with it anyway.
Frankly, I am jealous of both of these moms. Because they’re at peace with (and totally unapologetic about) their choices.
But I struggle with the issue of screen time, especially in the summer. I wish I could say that my kids much preferred to read or play outside. They like those things. But they really like screen time.
On the one hand, I know it’s perfectly normal. I logged many happy hours with the Jetsons, Flintstones, Cleavers, and Bradys as a child. On the other, I can’t help but worry that the endless amount of accessible entertainment is sucking my children’s imaginations dry. And I hate all that sitting around.
So every couple of months, I go off the deep end and consider pulling the plug on the whole operation (if only I understood all the cords behind the TV). But I know that’s not realistic for us.
So this summer, I devised a system: The weeks my kids have day camp, they each get an hour of screen time a day sometime between 5-7pm. The weeks they’re home, they get one hour in the evening plus 1.5 hours sometime before noon, but only after they have:
- Gotten dressed
- Eaten breakfast
- Brushed teeth
- Done two chores (see our list below)
My boys check in with me before they start their morning screen time so we’re on the same page about when they’re shutting down. If they go over the limit, they lose their time the next day. I figured that would happen once–and it did, the very first day. But it hasn’t happened since.
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Another new system we have: While it’s easy to keep the PlayStation and TV off the rest of the day, it’s not easy to manage a teenager with a phone in his pocket (and my husband and I can be guilty of too much phone-gazing too!). So I bought this charging station (with these cables) that sits on a corner desk in our dining room. Phones (and my younger son’s iPod Touch that he inherited from his big brother) are kept there, so they’re out of sight and not in easy reach. Bonus: We don’t have charging cables all over the house (at least not as many).
Earlier this summer, I also reached out to my Real Mom Nutrition community on Facebook and asked: How do you handle summer screen time in your house? I got so many great ideas that I decided to compile my favorites to remember and share. As you’ll see reading through the list, different families have different approaches and philosophies on screen time–what’s important is finding what feels good for YOUR family. And a lot of these would work during the school year too!
21 Ways To Limit Screen Time For Kids
- I came up with a list of activities to be completed before screen time: Read for 30 minutes, outside for 45 minutes, learning for 30 minutes, and creative for 30 minutes.
- A fitness tracker. No screen time until they hit 10K steps, read, and do chores.
- App called Brili. You can give each child a routine (I input 3 per day). When they have done the item in their routine, they swipe left. They can earn screen time and other rewards.
- Weekends only. Same all year long. The other five days my kids can write, read, ride, or rest.
- I ask my kids to schedule their watching hours for each coming week. During the day, I put the remotes in a lockbox.
- Chores and learning/productive activities before lunch, screens from lunch to dinner. No screens after dinner.
- I have a first grader and I allow her three 20-minute passes for screen time. It is up to her discretion how and when to use them, unless we have a commitment. But once all three passes are used, that’s it.
- They have “Creative, Active, Productive” times to fill – these take up the bulk of the day and then they can have free time on electronics.
- I have an app called DinnerTime that lets me set limits on my son’s tablet from my phone (there’s an app on his tablet and a parental version on my phone). You can set different limits for weekdays vs. weekends and schedule specific break times. You can select which apps are part of the time limit and which are exempt (for example he can listen to music as much as he wants and his daily math challenge doesn’t use any time). I can also disable his tablet from my phone at any time.
- We have four half-hour coupons that limit the screen time to a max of two hours. Chores, hygiene, some other play first for at least an hour, then you can ask to redeem a coupon. Put a timer on and respect the time limit.
- We use Screentime app (which is much better for Android devices). You can limit time but also pick and choose which apps are accessible. (My kids use WhatsApp to communicate with us; but we can shut down games during the day or for bedtime or after they have played for X amount of time.) They send a daily report via email so you can see what apps your kids are using.
- We have a one-hour limit year round and don’t allow tablets for daily use (on occasion I’ll use them at the doctor’s office or on a long car ride). I generally save it for right before bed when I am the most tired. Nothing fancy but it works for us.
- Money Saving Mom had a cool bingo game with squares like play with blocks/legos, do a good deed, play outside, draw a picture, etc. Each bingo equals 30 min screen time. (Get her free printable)
- My kids earn screen time. Ten minutes for every 30 minutes of guitar practice, hour of reading, etc.
- My kid (15-1/2 year old boy) has to prioritize WHEN the most important time is for screen time. For him, it is evenings when he plays games with his friends. During the day, he puts his phone in his room.
- My kids turn in electronics in the evening and they need to complete a list of chores and reading before they get them back in the morning.
- We cut off all video games and iPads during the summer. They can still watch tv in the evening but that’s it.
- We use the Circle app from Disney.
- Limit the days (weekends only) or hours (not before 5:00pm).
- We use the unGlue app.
Bonus idea: A friend of mine bought this router and hired a tech-savvy friend to configure it so it controls wifi access on different devices in the house. Wifi can be enabled or disabled, and she schedules those times through the router’s webpage.
Do you have any tips and ideas to add to the list? I’d love to hear them!
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