How many parents have a love/hate relationship with screen time? Are the hands flying into the air? I know mine is! We live in a technology filled world. Technology makes our lives easier in so many ways; information, entertainment, convenience. Technology has a dark side as well, from less than stellar content, to cyber bullies and predators. We have a lot to consider when navigating our real life world and the technology our children consume. Here are a few considerations when making screen time decisions in your own home.
What is on your children’s screens?
What do your children like to consume when they are using screen time? Let’s face it between Netflix, Amazon, Disney, YouTube, and a Google search bar, there are a million options. In those million options some are good and some are nonsense. This fact is true across platforms. YouTube, for instance, is full of obnoxious and somewhat annoying content. (One mother’s opinion, you may have your own.) YouTube is also full of tutorials on everything from cooking to engine repair to drawing cartoon characters. My children watch their fair share of gaming and people playing with Legos, but they also watch cooking and art. My oldest is obsessed with quizzes. She is always searching Google for the latest Harry Potter quiz or how to find out your spirit animal. I remember doing the same things. I just had to purchase actual magazines with my hard earned babysitting money. Google is saving her tons of cash. My children are also into games, mostly ones that come in the app store for your phone or tablet. Some of these games involve solving puzzles or learning letters and numbers and others involve designing outfits for cute little characters. If you are aware of what your children are consuming when they push the power button on their tablet, you have mastered the first step to screen time limits.
How long is too long?
I believe deciding on a set number of minutes per day of screen time is a difficult decision. I do not see a one size fits all answer to this question. I think each family needs to look at their own life and their habits and make a decision that works for them. Also understand that what works in July may not work in September, as well as what works for child #1 may not be right for child #2. I personally agonize over this question all the time. I look for balance. Are my children using their imagination, playing together, reading, spending time outdoors? As long as all these things are happening on a consistent basis, I try not to stress about how many minutes my daughter spent creating outfits for her Gacha characters.
Look at your own habits
I know we are parents and we get to make the rules, but actions speak louder than words. Look at how you use technology and how much screen time you consume, because you are setting the tone for “normal”. I was raised in a home where the TV was always on. It was background noise. Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy were on while we ate dinner and cleaned the kitchen for my whole life. It was just what we did. We also sat around the table, all four of us, eating and talking about the day, and of course bragging when we could solve the puzzle before everyone else. Until I blessed this house with our second child, I also had the TV on all the time. It was my background noise, TNT reruns in the morning and the Food Network from the lunch until prime time was the soundtrack to my oldest child’s first year of life. After my second child was born I split my time between music and a steady stream of PBS Kids. After my third child was born, I decided life was noisy enough and I did not need 24/7 background noise. But my children like 24/7 background noise, probably in part because of my previous habits. Because of this, I try not to be too bothered when my son has Power Rangers on for two hours while he plays with action figures or my daughter has a Music Playlists streaming on YouTube while she does her art. Yes they have screens going, but they are tuned in to other things.
Find a System
Once you look at what your children are consuming and how much screen time works best in your home for this season, then it is time to find a system for navigating it all without driving yourself insane. No one wants an epic power struggle every moment of the day over screen time. It is exhausting! Since we have formed this love/hate relationship with technology, there are some options out there to help us enforce our screen limits and what our children consume. One that we use in our home is Amazon Free Time.
Each of my children has an Amazon Fire Tablet. When we first decided to allow tablet use in our home, we found the Fire Tablet to be the most affordable. We started out with one they shared and three years later they each have their own. (Like I said, I want to avoid epic power struggles and unnecessary battles.) We discovered Amazon Free Time when we set up our first Fire Tablet. With Free time, you are able to set up profiles for each of your children. Then, based on age, content is loaded onto each profile, everything from books, to games, to websites. With each profile you also have the option to set time limits and hours of operation for each profile. Want all tablets turned off at 7pm, set the limit in each profile. Then at 7pm a message pops up on the screen saying, all done for today, see you tomorrow. No discussion, the tablet is a paper weight until whatever hour of the day it has been set to awaken. The strange thing we found was that the kiddos do not argue with the pop up like they argue with me walking in the room and saying “Time to shut it down.” Honestly, my favorite feature is the content over the limits. Everything is high quality and age appropriate without me navigating the app store and the kindle store to make it happen. There is a small monthly fee for this service, but I will gladly forgo a trip to Starbucks to keep it around.
I know; you probably started reading this post looking for a perfect chart to tell you exactly what to do regarding screen limits. I’m sorry, the world is much too complicated for a one size fits all answer. You are the moms and dads. You know better than anyone else what makes your child tick. Can they casually play a game on your phone and then return it to you, drama free? Or does a 10 minute screen break turn into a 30 minute battle of epic proportions? These are the questions you need to ask and then set your systems accordingly. If you are worried about content, watch together. Do I really want to watch people build Legos on YouTube? Not so much! But if I am watching with my child then I am 100% sure of what is being input into that little brain. No need to guess. Know your kids. Make a plan. Follow the plan. Change the plan when it doesn’t work anymore. Follow these rules and you will be able to navigate screen time like a pro, from now into eternity.