Friday, May 24, 2024

5 Tips for Managing Screen Time with Kids


In this post I’ll share our tips for managing screen time and resources we’ve found helpful. This is Part 1 of a three part series talking about how to manage screen time with kids.

how to establish healthy screen time habitshow to establish healthy screen time habits

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What are some tips for managing screen time with kids? How can I establish healthy screen time habits in my home?

As a busy mom of four kids, I think about screen time a lot! I’ve gone through the toddler stages all the way to the teenage stages with two kids and have two more to go. Each child is different. Screens have also continued to change with each of my kids. Screen time conversations are ongoing!

As a parent, I strive for my kids to lead balanced lives, enjoying diverse activities and relationships that bring them joy while positively impacting the world.

Here are some of the tips we’ll cover in this post about managing screen time with kids that have worked well for us.

  1. Make a screen time plan with each child.
  2. Create a consistent time for when screens can be available.
  3. Talk about the types of screen time that are available and when.
  4. Teach kids the screen time motto “people first.”
  5. Help kids find a joyful life outside of screens.

Screens can be fun and bring a lot of joy into your family. Screens can also be hard and bring challenges. Screen usage is not a parenting responsibility to take lightly.

Screen time comes up in almost every conversation I have with parents of young kids, tweens, and teens. How much is ok? How much is too much? How can screen time be productive? How can I protect my kids from inappropriate content?

Each family is different and screen time habits and needs will most likely change as your kids move through different stages.

In this post I’ll share how our family is working to establish healthy screen time habits and some of the resources we’ve found helpful as we’ve made decisions for our family.

As you’re managing screen time and establishing screen time habits, it is important to recognize that each of your children’s screen time needs may be different. There should be no one size fits all recommendation.

Disclaimer: I am not a parenting expert with a degree in child psychology/development. I am a parent and teacher. These are tips that have worked for our family. Please make sure as you’re deciding on what works for your family, you consult a variety of resources along with any health professionals that know your family well.

What are healthy screen time habits?

For our family, healthy screen time means that kids spend the majority of their time playing inside and outside and interacting with friends and family, away from screens. Kids are also engaged in interactive screen time, communication with screens, and content creation with screens.

Consider what do healthy screen time habits look like for your family? They may be different than mine.

Here are 5 tips for managing screen time with kids

1. Start by making a screen time plan with each child.

When you’re looking at your family screen time habits, the first thing I recommend is to begin with the end in mind. What are your goals for your kids? What are their goals? How does screen time fit in?

“All big things come from small beginnings. The seed of every habit is a single, tiny decision.” – James Clear, Author of Atomic Habits (one of my favorite books!)

Making a screen plan with young kids

With young kids, they won’t have big screen time goals beyond, “I want to watch Paw Patrol all the time.” But they might have other activities they want to spend time on and adventures they want to go on with you.

You can simply talk together and make a list of things they like to do, including watching Paw Patrol (or whatever show they like).

During the day when they ask about screen time, you can remind them when it’s going to happen (“We’ll watch Paw Patrol after naptime, while I make dinner”) and talk about some of the others things on their plan for the day too (going to the park, playing with a friend, etc).

You could even make a visual schedule for the day and put it on there so kids can see where it fits into their day or week. Check out my visual schedule here.

Making a screen plan with big kids

Big kids often have a lot of plans. They might want to play soccer, sign up for gymnastics, have a lot of playdates, AND play video games all the time.

Fortunately, they also have a better concept of time and know that all those things can’t fit into every day.

One of the reasons we typically only have screen time on weekends at our house is because our kids have so many other things they want to spend their time on.

Talk with your big kids and make a list of what they want to spend their time on. You might need to give them some ideas if they’re stuck. When they’re looking for activity ideas and can only think of playing screens, direct them back to their list. You can even post their list so it’s visible as a reminder.

2. Decide on a consistent time for when screens can be available.

Some families have a set time each day for screen time. Our family typically only has kids choice screen time available on the weekends due to schedules, lack of time, and our personal preference (I’ll explain more later in this post). Kids do have screens available, if required, to complete homework during the week.

Helping kids know what to expect makes screen time easier for everyone, whether it’s once a week or every day.

3. Talk about the types of screen time that are available and when.

Is TV available?

What about Tablets?

How about video game consoles?

What about computers?

What can kids do when?

If your plan is clear and consistent, it makes your life easier.

Our House Rules

Music: At our house, kids are welcome to use tablets or our Google home to listen to music while they’re doing their homework, cleaning, or playing. It’s a “tool” to help them.

Homework: On weekdays they can use computers and tablets to complete homework assignments. Our older kids may have more screen time than our younger kids. Screen time isn’t necessarily equal.

Weekends: On the weekends kids can use computers, tablets, TV, and video game consoles to play games, communicate, create, watch shows, and more.

Rules for little kids home all day: Kids can watch a show after nap time or quiet time while mom works/makes dinner.

Rules for when mom is sick: All screen rules go out the window!

Your House Rules

Every family needs to figure out what makes sense for them. It’s ok if my house rules are different than yours. Make screen time work for your family.

What do screen time house rules look like for your family? They may be different than mine. They may vary kid to kid.

4. Consider teaching kids a screen time motto for your family like “people first.”

Our screen time motto is “people first.” We practice this during family meetings and whenever the kids are using screens.

Here are a few examples of our motto in action:

Example #1: Kids are playing iPads on a roadtrip and we’re about to get to Grandma’s house. We say to them, “Remember, people first. When we get to grandma’s house, iPads go off right away because we’re going to go inside and say hi to grandma.”

Example #2: Kids are playing video games upstairs and a friend rings the doorbell and invites them to come and play. We encourage our kids to focus on “people first” and pause their game to go play with a real life person versus a virtual person or at minimum come talk to the friend and make plans to play another time.

Example #3: Kids are watching a movie and dad gets home from a business trip. Kids are encourage to pause the movie and go and welcome dad home before they come back and finish their movie.

A lot of the role play scenarios we go through are focused on basic manners and courtesy. Similarly, if I am picking my kids up at school, I try and make sure I’m not looking at my phone and am putting my attention on them first.

No one feels good when they feel like they’re competing with a screen for attention.

Are there exceptions to all of these? Of course!

RELATED: Needed more ideas for teaching manners to kids? My friend Brooke Romney wrote Modern Manners for Kids, The perfect guide to help parents proactively teach their kids what to do in difficult, sticky, or emotional situations.

5. Help kids find a joyful life outside of screens.

One of the best ways to help kids establish healthy screen time habits is by helping them find a variety of activities that they enjoy doing OUTSIDE of screens.

Screens are easy.

Sometimes thinking of something else to do is hard. Sometimes coordinating to do something with some else is tricky too.

Help kids create their “go to” list of boredom busters so that doing screen-free activities are just as easy.

Here are our favorite 50+ Easy Boredom Busters for Kids.

Check out this list of 35 Activity Ideas kids can try anytime!

Use the button below to download your own copy.

Some kids need structured activities like sports teams, clubs, and other activities outside of your home to help them make connections and build skills so that they are able to find a joyful life outside of screens.

Work with your kids and help them figure this out. Each child will be different.

Why we don’t do screen time during the week!

I decided several years ago to make screens a WEEKEND ONLY activity.

I was tired of having to manage screens daily with kids and wanted to encourage my kids (and myself) to use different tools instead of screens.

After a few weeks of asking for screens, my kids discovered that they were fully capable of finding other things to do WITHOUT screens during the week.

This was more work for them (and ME) but I really enjoyed the challenge.

Screen free weekdays work for us! They may not work for everyone. It’s important for you to figure out what works for your family.

RELATED: Need screen free activities to do every day? Check out our Year of Play ebook filled with weekly activity plans for kids ages 2-6.

Do kids need to have screen time every day?

Not necessarily.

Do you need your kids to have screen time every day?

Sometimes.

When I had a very challenging first child who never napped and had raging frequent tantrums that were emotionally taxing, you better believe we had screen time every day. I needed the break for me!

When I had four kids at home during the pandemic, including a busy toddler- YES! I needed them to have screen time every day so that I could get work done.

When I had a very creative 2 year old who loved to play with sensory bins and draw, no, we didn’t need screen time every day. It was an occasional thing.

She didn’t need it and I didn’t need it.

Screen time can be a resource for parents and kids- if they need it.

Screen time reminders for parents

  • We can let kids use screens AND play with toys and spend time outdoors.
  • Sometimes screen time and off screen time won’t be balanced. It’s ok to use screens as a tool to help you or to use screens to meet your needs.
  • Kids will get frustrated by boundaries you set with screens. That is ok. They’re allowed to get upset and you’re allowed to listen to their frustrations and also enforce the boundaries you’ve created.
  • Kids will see inappropriate things if you choose to let them use screens. It’s not an if, it’s a when. It’s your job to teach them and coach them to know what to do when they see inappropriate things.
  • Kids will make mistakes using screens. It’s your job to teach them and help coach them to use screens in better ways.
  • Parents need to be aware of what their kids/teens are doing on screens and monitor them regularly. Read messages, look at their YouTube watch history, watch videos and game play together, etc.
  • Even if you choose not to let your kids use screens, they may be shown things on other people’s screens when you aren’t around or they are at a friend’s house or school. Communicate about screens regularly, even with your littles.

Screen Time Resources that are Helpful for Parents

Part 2 of our Managing Screen Time Series.

In Part 2 and 3 of my Screen Time Series we’ll dive into some of these topics listed below. Come back soon to check it out!

  • What are types of screen time activities kids can participate in? (Pros/Cons)
  • What responsibility do parents have when it comes to screens in their home?
  • How can parents set a good example of healthy screen use?
  • How can parents monitor kids and screens for unsafe and harmful activity?
  • How can parents communicate with kids about screens regularly?
  • How can parents teach kids how to use screens responsibly, including cameras, messaging, and sharing of media?

Do you have other screen time questions? Put them in the comments and I’ll try to answer them or share resources that have helped us!



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