One of the worries I hear from parents due to the stay at home orders is about screen time and kids.
For many, screen time has increased significantly not only due to zoom school or the equivalent but also as a way for kids to socialize with their friends. Add their usual Minecraft /Among Us / Fortnight game time and general video watching and suddenly it feels like our kids are stuck to their screens 24/7.
What Are Parents Supposed To Do?
You have two choices, do nothing and let the guilt eat you up as your child develops square eyes. (Apparently, according to my mom, that’s what too much TV did to us kids back in the day!)
Or you can be proactive and make the most of a crappy situation.
I’m sure you have read articles on ways to cut down your kid’s screen time and yes, there is some good advice out there but most of that info came out before our kids were stuck at home for extended periods of time and had to use the screen for school too.
Just a heads up, in case you are new to these parts. We homeschool and have been doing so for the last three years and yes, we have had screen time issues.
My son uses an online app for a good chunk of his education so this advice comes with the practical things that we have done as well as things that have worked for my clients.
I have talked about this before with some general ideas on what to do, this post is more of a step by step guide.
Start With A Plan To Deal With Screen Time And The Kids
First things first…
You and your partner need to be on the same page, and show a united front, and have a discussion about what you want the outcome to look like before getting the kids involved.
1. Call a family meeting.
No gadgets allowed! Set a time when you can all sit down distraction-free and have a family meeting.
If you don’t already do this, build it into your week. Set a regular time, even over a meal will do, when you discuss anything that needs addressing over the week.
2. Talk about your concerns
Let the kids voice their opinions too. Talk about why too much screen time is bad and bring up issues like a change in behaviour when kids are on the screen for an extended time.
A client of mine was having issues when her son played Fortnite, he is usually a great kid, fun to be around but after playing Fortnite, he was horrid.
They tried cutting down his playing time but that didn’t work, so they banned it for a month. The change in him was huge and he decided that he didn’t want to play anymore because it made him feel angry.
Often kids can’t recognize what is happening to them emotionally so talking to them to help them share how they feel and how they are making other feel is a step in the right direction.
We find that when our teen has been on the screen consuming content rather than creating, he is grumpy. So that is something I check in with regularly, to make sure he is creating more than he consumes.
If you have older kids, especially though who use social media, I recommend watching The Social Dilemma. Then after, talk about the things that you learned.
Understanding that games and social media are designed to be addictive is important, kids need to know what they are getting into.
3. Use the built-in consumption trackers
On most gadgets, you can track the amount of time used on various apps. Track it over the course of a week. Not just the kids, but parents too.
You can’t be complaining to the kids for being stuck on their screens all the time if you are doing the same!
When you have your family meeting, log in your screen time. Then adjust accordingly.
A way to help kids understand visually how much time they are using is by using the Daily Bucket from the printable (you can sign up and download it below). And honestly look at how much time is spent on the screen compared to the rest of the day.
The bucket helps the kids see what that looks like for a full day. The concept of the passage of time is quite difficult for kids to get their heads around.
4. As a FAMILY decide on screen time limits
For screen time and kids and for adults too! I don’t like to suggest what you should and shouldn’t do here because each family is different and has different needs.
This is where having a plan works in your favour. I know some people are baulking at the idea but try it!
If your kids usually go to traditional school but are currently at home, they have 2 versions of the plan. One for regular school and one for schooling at home.
You might want to have a weekday plan and a weekend plan too. Or do as a friend did and make weekends screen-free completely. We don’t go as far as that but we do intentionally put screens away so we can play board games together.
5. Write it down
Better still, get the kids to make a poster with your ‘rules’. Then brainstorm with the kids ways to help them (and you) stick to the rules. Using the checklist from the PDF below will help there!
There are several ideas on how to cut down screen time and how to differentiate between the types of screen time.
What if keeping the screen time and kids manageable isn’t working?
Just think of this as a giant experiment.
Now comes the fun part. You get to dissect what is and isn’t working and as a family, as a TEAM, figure out how to fix it.
This step is the one that many parents don’t take…
ASK the kids why they think it’s not working and how they think the problem can be solved. Depending on your child they might need some time to think about it, so maybe set a deadline later in the day.
Other kids will have ideas flowing from them and you might have to reel it in a bit.
Putting the control into their hands (with your guidelines) rather than coming down all sergeant majors on them is showing that:
- You trust them to make the right choices
- You believe that they can come up with a great solution
How empowering is that for a kid?
And during a time when kids have had so much taken from them as far as decisions and choices go. This is a lovely way to give them some freedom and responsibility.
In the checklist below there are several ways to cut down and control screen time. Plus the Daily Bucket printable to make it visual for your kids. Pop your name and email into the form then check your inbox.
I also have some extra tips and tricks included to make your life easier!