Little Life Hacks: Schedule your kid’s screen time

Now that summer vacation has started in my house, my kids have the expectation that they will be able to play games on my phone and watch unlimited television. The first afternoon of summer vacation was full of protestations from my daughter claiming  “I haven’t had that much time on your phone!”

I have a love/hate relationship with my phone, social media, computers, and all of the internet.

I hate feeling like I’m shoving a device in front of my children’s faces to get them to focus on something so they stop distracting me, but I also desperately need them to focus on something else and stop distracting me for some period of time every day.

That is where a schedule comes in.

I find that if I say something like “You’re never playing games on my phone again!” in a moment of frustration that two things happen.

  1. I lose face with my kids because we all know that they’re going to get to play games on my phone again.
  2. It’s also not fair to my kids because games on my phone are fun, and they enjoy it.

It’s just that they need other things in their life too. Common sense media (which is one of my favorite sites on the internet and has great resources for parents) has a lot of great ideas and cites research from the American Academy of Pediatrics and World Health Organization recommending about an hour of screen time per day for kids age 2-5 (my kids are 3 and 6). 

It is really easy to run through an hour of screen time.

And some days, we have more than an hour.

But we have a schedule, and it helps.

  • Each kids picks a morning television show

    Note: we watch PBS kids almost exclusively because I feel like it’s the most age appropriate programming I’ve found, I like watching the shows, and there are no commercials.

  • Each kid gets to play 20 minutes of PBS Kids Games on my phone after they do 30 minutes of some kind of physical activity (usually one of our taekwondo classes).

    Note: I used to have a subscription to ABC Mouse, and might renew it for the summer or take advantage of some of the learning programs available from my daughter’s elementary school to help keep up her skills over the summer.  To me, it’s important and worth it to pay for programs or take advantage of public options to limit the amount of advertising my kids are exposed to, and to keep them off of youtube or other open websites where they can easily find inappropriate content.

  • On Saturdays, we watch a family movie (we take turns so everyone gets a chance to pick the movie, and if you’re stumped, Common Sense Media has great ideas!)

Is this hard to stick to? Yes.

Do I always succeed? No.

But, when my kids know what the baseline expectation is, and we do stick to it, they’re less likely to argue, beg, or otherwise harangue me about watching more, more and more. And, fortunately or unfortunately, the amount of screen time they get really does affect their mood, their ability to self-regulate and a lot of other behaviors. So, I find it best to believe the experts and keep the screens off most of the time.

Do you have any tips for screen time schedules and management?

Do you give your kids screen time as a reward?

Do you use timers?

Do you ever just want to burn all the devices and move off the grid (or is that just me?)?

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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