Last week, during the Everyday Reading Book Club discussion of How to Raise an Adult, we talked about protecting unstructured play for kids and several people asked, “How do you deal with it when your child only wants to play video games or play on the tablet or watch a show during unstructured time?”
For our family, it’s a two part thing.
One, we have very clear boundaries around screen time during unstructured play time. For instance, during quiet time, there are no screens allowed. No tablets, no movies, no shows.
We’ve never had screen time as part of quiet time, from the very beginning, so those screen time limits are easy to enforce because it’s such a strong boundary that’s been in place for our family for nearly a decade.
The other part is that we ALSO have very clear times when there ARE screens allowed. When they can clearly expect when they will have screen time, it cuts down considerably on begging for screens. Just like it’s easier to say no to a snack request at 5:50 p.m. when you can tell your child you’ll be eating in 10 minutes, it’s easier to say no to screen time after school on Friday when you can tell them that you’ll be watching a movie as a family in a few hours.
Here is when we DO have screen time in our family:
- Friday night movie night. We kick off every weekend with a family movie night. We all snuggle up on our couch in the family room with a bunch of blankets and watch a movie or an episode or two of a show we’re watching (we’re currently watching The Mysterious Benedict Society). If the movie goes too late, we’ll stop and finish up on Saturday morning or afternoon.
- While I do their hair in the morning. They sit around the kitchen table and I turn on a show on my laptop and they watch for 5-10 minutes while I do everyone’s hair. As soon as their hair is done, I turn off the show, even if it’s not over – since I do their hair every day, they can just watch the rest tomorrow.
- Occasionally on Sunday afternoons. We often have family or friends over for dinner on Sunday, but if we are home all day after church with no plans, we’ll often watch an episode of a Sunday-ish show together, like Relative Race or Random Acts.
- Road trips. We have enough devices that everyone can have one when we go on a road trip. Our girls LOVE road trips for this reason – hours of screen time is such a rare treat that they look forward to hours in the car! (They never use electronics or screens on normal car time like running errands or car trips under an hour).
- When we’re on a family trip. If we’re on a trip to my parents’ house or with cousins at a family reunion, and they turn on a movie or show them how to play a video game, that’s fine by us.
Of course, this doesn’t count education related screen time like Savvy Reading or Wonderland Math or projects that my older girls need to do on the computer.
And because I know someone will ask, we don’t consider Kindle e-readers as screen time.
And these things are always changing as my girls’ ages change, their school work increases, and our schedules adjust. Summer looks a little different than the school year.
I don’t want screen time limits to feel like they are onerous or overly restrictive – my focus is always on having lots of fun, interesting and useful things to do with our time and screen time as a small, fun part of our routine, rather than endless begging, negotiating and whining about screen time.
I’d love to hear what the screen time limits at your house look like! What works for you or is a pain point?
If you liked this post about screen time limits, you might like these posts too:
- 11 tips for decreasing screen time for kids
- Some of the things that help me control my phone usage
- Screen free activities for kids when they’re bored
We have pretty similar boundaries in the school year (Friday nights, Sat morning, occasionally Sunday, road trips). During the summer my kids can earn 90 min screentime if they complete a long list of requirements (some chores, some service, and lots of sibling/creative time-ie 30 min outside, 30 minutes with a sibling, 30 min creative time, etc) but it takes long enough that it’s not feasible to complete on days where we have any planned activities. It’s a good backup for those Summer days when I have a lot to get done and we don’t leave the house.
One easy cue we used for when screens were appropriate for the car drive (for when my kids were too young to understand time) was screens were only allowed if we were driving to Grandma’s or to a hotel (ie on a road trip). Anywhere else meant it was close enough they didn’t get screens.
I am so grateful you’ve been talking about how limited screens are in your home for so many years! It definitely influenced me as a new Mom. My oldest is 9 now and screens have always been very limited in our home, and as a result, I have creative, imaginative kids who play and entertain themselves for hours at a time.
We watch shows or movies as a family about once a week, little snippets when I do the girls hair, and we have a DVD player for the car. They watch one movie per day on longer road trips (they’re even good at self entertainment in the car since we regularly drive 4-8 hours to see family).
My kids also earn tickets for doing their routines independently, setting the table, practicing piano, cleaning up, etc. They can trade 8 tickets for a dollar or pay 2 tickets each for up to 1 show per day. It works really well for our family! They don’t feel restricted and I feel like it’s a privilege they’ve earned after being responsible and contributing to the family.
My kids don’t get screen time during the week, so they always look forward to “Friday night tech time” when my husband and I go out on a date. (My kids are 6-13.) On Saturday afternoon we try to watch a show or two as a family (we also love Relative Race and the Janssen-recommended All Around Champion) and then they usually get a couple hours of additional screen time on Saturday when they can watch shows or play the switch. They don’t ask for screen time during the week because they know they’re not going to get it.
Thanks for sharing! One quick follow-up- how much education related screen time like Savvy Reading or Wonderland Math? When do you fit this into your routine?
Janssen Bradshaw says
My youngest does Savvy Reading 4 mornings a week (25 minutes M-Th) and then Wonderland Math is for my 3rd grader, one hour a week in the evening.
Thank you for your wisdom. Regarding coding, how often do they do that?