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.
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