Do you worry about how much time our kids (and maybe ourselves) spend on the screen?

It’s a common problem and then with the whole pandemic, lockdowns, and isolation and zoom school to top it all off, we are spending more and more time on screens.

I wanted to share with you a system that works well with our family. It has put an end to battling over gadgets and guilt when it comes to screens.

A bit of back story first… we homeschooled for Junior High, from age 12 -15 (you can read about school in Japan here), and used an online program for most of the curriculum. For high school we are using a hybrid school, I explain all about N-school this post, although my son does go into school all the lessons are online and most are available in VR too.

So as schoolwork goes, there has always been a lot of screen time involved.

Then the whole pandemic thing meant that hanging out with mates was also done online.

And then, you know, playing games, scrolling Instagram, watching cat videos, the usual.

There is plenty of scare-mongering and evidence-based research out there telling us how bad screen time is and yet we are living in a situation where screens are very much part of our lives. My job would not exist if it weren’t for the internet!

I decided to let go of the guilt and instead come at the problem from a “make the most of a crappy situation” stance.

Stuck between a rock and a hard place

Like most parents, I’ve wondered how to limit kid’s screen time without becoming the big bad mom or isolating my son even further.

What I came up with turned out to be simple but effective and we apply it to everyone in the family. No one rule for parents and another for kids.

Because I’m sure your kids will let you know how unfair that is just as loudly as mine would!

One motto to rule them all

Create more than consume.

That is it! I know, ridiculously easy right? But allow me to dig deeper into this theory of mine.

When I took a step back and thought about how to limit kids’ screen time I started to think more about the types of screen time. And I some came to the conclusion that not all screen time is created equal. And so my goal was then to limit the crap screen time

Roughly speaking we have the good stuff… basically anything that involves learning or connecting with friends and family.

And the not-so-good stuff… mindlessly scrolling on TikTok, cat videos, and watching other kids play Minecraft.

Now before anyone starts ranting about the merits of watching cat videos I want to say that every family can use the Create More Than Consume system but as a family, you need to sit down and decide what constitutes creating and what is consuming.

If your kids are using a Minecraft-based curriculum to learn about something specific and watching other kids’ videos on Minecraft is going to help them to do that, then that would go in the create bucket. But if they watch Dan TDM for 4 hours a day and don’t actually play Minecraft, then that would go in the consume bucket. Sorry, Dan!

Mother and daughter on the laptop with the father in the background

Not limitings kids screen time when it comes to creating

What exactly goes into the creating bucket? This can be anything where learning is involved and anything where some kind of creation is taking place.

For our family this includes:

It also includes creating on a screen that might look like:

  • Drawing in Procreate
  • Coding
  • Recordng and video editing
  • Creating art in the Adobe suite
  • Setting up and selling digital creations
  • Writing books, blogs, poems…
  • Playing stratigic games such as chess and dare I say it… Wordle!
  • Practicing maths skill in Khan Academy
  • Creating new worlds in Minecraft
  • Learning how to use apps and software proficiently

There are times when we are all sitting as a family in the living room but all doing our own thing, I might be drawing on my iPad, my husband learning Python, and my son researching proteins in soya. We are all being creative in our own way and hanging out as a family. We often share what we are up to or what we have learned.

One thing I have found with the Create More Than Consume rule is that often after one of us has learned something or after watching a tutorial we are more likely to get off the screen to implement the learning. Whether that be trying out a new recipe technique or trying to beat someone at chess.

Kids Coding In School. Sitting by the desk and working on laptop

The kind of screen time we do limit

There is a fine line to watching tutorials and it’s easy to put them in the creating bucket BUT, there is always a but… It can ONLY go in the create bucket if you implement what you are learning.

I find myself watching lots of techie hacks and tips but I make sure to try some of them out otherwise my consume bucket would be overflowing.

Social media in general goes in the consume bucket, yes we use it to connect and catch up with friends but that path goes two ways. You have to be posting and having conversations for it to go into the create bucket, if it is mindless scrolling then consuming it is.

And there is nothing wrong with a bit of mindless scrolling occasionally, again, it comes back to balance. Excessive mindless scrolling is when things get out of hand.

This is where a conversation with your family is important, I personally would put playing Fortnite in the consume bucket but other people might feel it belongs in the create bucket. It’s all about finding the right balance for your family.

We found (and a few close friends too) that when our kids played Fortnite, they were having fun playing together online, which was great but often the kids were truly horrible when they came off the game. It got to the point where one friend banned it in her house for a month and saw a huge difference in her son’s behaviour.

By changing the game, the boys still got to hang out together and have fun but there wasn’t the problematic behaviour when they came offline.

Small boy and girl playing game with wireless headphones on

Other ways we limit screen time

The Create More Than Consume is the main rule of the home but we do have a few others in place.

No screens or gadgets at the dinner table/when eating. The exception is popcorn when we are watching a movie. We never have the TV on at meal times either. Sometimes we listen to podcasts or audiobooks at mealtimes.

No screens/phones in the bedroom at night. Nearly a third of teens sleep with their phones in their bed and 74% of adults have their phones within reach of their bed at night. This is having a knock-on effect of teens and adults alike having a feeling of phone addiction and for teens, many of them are having disruptive sleep patterns or a lack of sleep in general as they stay up on social media until the wee hours.

To prevent us falling into this trap, we have a blanket rule for everyone, the phones get put into the charging station (we have this one) at night which also has the plus effect of our phones always being charged in case of an earthquake and having to leave the house in an emergency.

And I know someone out there will be saying ‘but I use my phone as an alarm clock’! Time to go old skool and get a real alarm clock. You probably still have one in the back of the nightstand, just pop some new batteries in it! 🙂

Have offline hobbies. We all have hobbies that don’t involve the screen, my son goes bouldering 2 or 3 times a week, both he and my husband do aikido. I sew, draw, paint, and like photography and we are all big readers. Some of these hobbies we do separate to the family, some we do together.

Have non-screen time activities available. We all have those days when we need to get some work done and passing the kids the screen feels like the easiest way out. But if your kids are playing up due to too much screen or you just want to reduce the time they are on it, try out these screen-free ideas…

Teen boy doing rock climbing

To Wrap Up

To limit kids’ screen time, introduce the idea of Create More Than Consume to the family, you might want to get your partner on board before tackling the kids.

Between you come up with the rules, what do you consider to be “create vs consume”? This can make for a great open discussion. Let kids say their piece and put forward the argument that a certain activity should be in a certain bucket.

Set some rules in place about where and when you can and can’t have screen time.

Stay consistent and let the kids pull you up if you are breaking the rules in the same way you would pull them up.

At the same time each day – meal times work well if you all eat together. Ask whether each person has created or consumed more that day.