New edit since original posting: Screen time is constantly training our kid’s brains toward shorter attention spans. Since my original post here, I’ve learned that the American Association of Pediatrics, as well as British authorities, have advised no more than two hours of screen time per day. More than that has shown connections to anxiety and depression in kids–and cannot be compensated for with physical activity.
My family might call me a screen time snob. And…I might agree with them. You’ve already heard how I feel about my iPhone.
Perhaps it’s the ballad of the homeschooling mother: I’m the one who says “no” in your schoolwork, your behavior, your chores, your squabbling with your younger sister, your novel idea to jump from the house’s water tower over the compound wall and into the road. Just call me Madame “Non”.
But we got to that point–you may have been there–when screen time seemed to be controlling my home rather than the other way around. A grandparent was kind enough to let me know that my kids were manipulating my former system, and definitely exploiting my own weakness: a lack of vigilance.
What I don’t want: for there to be a complete ban or hyper-restrictions on what you might call gratuitous fun. I have this mental image of my kids going to college like a bat out of Hades, and discovering once the guardrails are all off that they possess zero experience with self-discipline. I’m not seeking an embargo. I’m seeking to teach my kids what healthy amounts of fun stuff looks like. So there’s that.
But I also want lots and lots of time for creative, outdoor play with, you know, actual people in real life. I loved hearing my youngest this afternoon bellow across the yard, “TO THE KEEP!”
So our house got to the point that I recognized the need for a system that required less of me determining yes or no, how many minutes you’ve got left, and are you holding that remote without your chores done? Well, I wanted less of me in it, period. I want the system to be in place, and the system establishes clear expectations of yes or no. Like the police officer pulling you over and coolly strolling to your door, your fear of the deserved consequences of the law is what incites the cold sweat–not a fear of the policeman throwing down his pad and throwing a hissy fit.
So enough talk. Here’s our new plan, with accompanying fine print. So far, it works fairly well for my children aged 6-11.
1.Determine how much screen time you’ve determined is healthy for your kids. Since we’ve got four kids who often enjoy each other’s time, we’ve set our average at 20 minutes per child per day. (There. I said it. Judge away; just be nice in the comment section.)
2.Responsibility charts (optional for ease: laminated and marked with dry or wet erase markers). DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE, SIMPLE, EDITABLE Google Sheets “GOOD JOB” CHART TEMPLATE HERE!
a) We customized ours for the particular issues our kids were (/are) struggling with: Tidying rooms on a daily basis. Emotional outbursts (Um. To which they may be hereditarily predisposed…). You get the idea.
b) My husband wanted all checkmarks accounted for before dinner so that we’re not adding chaos to family time and bedtime.
c) I jazzed them up with snazzy kid fonts, like Star Jedi for my 11-year-old son.
2.Clearly stated rewards on the chart.
a) Decide what’s “wow”-level behavior, “Gee, that’s great!” behavior, and hope-you-get-your-act-together-before-your-next-birthday behavior. Determine rewards appropriately.
b) We pitched this to our kids as a chance to achieve extra screen time: 10 extra minutes if all boxes are checked; 5 if all but one are checked;5 perfect days in one week=stay up an extra 30 minutes after bedtime; etc. etc. Recently–noticing that my children are happily settling for mediocrity and declining to address the squalor in their rooms at the cost of five minutes of screen time–I am now requiring that box be ticked before they check their list with me.
3.One parent doles out screen time “bucks.” DOWNLOAD FREE PRINTABLE SCREEN TIME “BUCKS” HERE!
a) Ours are popsicle sticks labeled with Sharpies, worth five minutes each. They’re reusable, and in my own handwriting. Another option: laminated printable bucks.
b) Be smart: Make your bucks unable to be reproduced by your children (as my mother says, always assume your children are smarter than you think they are), hence the laminating, perhaps after printing in color and signing them (you can probably forego the hologram). Keep them in a place where kids can’t get at them; I use an old vitamin jar.
c) Screen time stolen from a sibling=forfeiture of a predetermined number of bucks. (We use the “Zacchaeus rule” with stealing: pay back four times what you nabbed.)
4.Child must hand over bucks at the beginning of all screen time, at which point they must also demonstrate their use of a timer. Announce a predetermined fine of bucks when a child uses screen time without a timer or bucks.
5. Pray and discuss additional safeguards to be established in your home, particularly for your children’s weaknesses–and compensating for your own. Always be many, many steps ahead!
- a) I’m thankful for Tim Challies’ Porn-free Family Plan. DO IT. Do it whether you have boys or girls, and for kids as soon as they start using any devices. Don’t get behind the game with this one; the consequences are vast and long-lasting. Check internet histories, phone/text histories, and require that your children share passwords on all accounts (all of which we’ve also chosen for our marriage).
b) As you consider when your children are old enough for social media, consider doing on a per-child basis rather than when they hit a certain age. It’s a privilege to be earned through trustworthiness, accountability, and responsibility–not a right.
c) Consider times when devices are not allowed: mealtimes, predetermined “media fasts” for the whole family, bedtime, perhaps Sunday morning as you prepare your hearts for worship, etc. Teach times and etiquette from the get-go.
- d) This system only accounts for the time–not the quality of the screen time. Set and hold fast to standards about what your family will and won’t watch, using verses like Philippians 4:8 and Psalm 101:3 as your guidelines for entertainment. Pluggedin.com has reviews on all sorts of media so you know exactly what you’re getting into. My husband and I don’t always go with the “no” approach here; we prefer to have solid conversations with our kids and help them build wise media discernment. But that’s another blog post.
Most of all–this is not the plan; it is a plan, one I have hopes to improve upon. I hope simply to motivate us all to press on in taking control of media rather than the other way around.
Again, to the free printables:
Tell us: What do you do to maintain healthy usage of media in your family?
Like this post? You might like 5 Surprising Prayers for My Kids, Freebie: Print 31 Ways to Pray Scripture for Your Kids!, and Holes: Why Your Should Know Yours (or Your Kid’s). Also, check out A Mountain of [Surprising] Reasons to Get Your Kids Outdoors.