Just as with sugar, junk food, time out in the sun, parents should also limit time spent on screens. “Screens” include televisions, DVD players, computers, smartphones and tablets.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following healthy media habits:
- limiting screen time use for children 18 months of age to video calls with loved ones
- children 2-5 years old: 1 hour per day
- children 6 years and older: limit screen use so that it does not interfere with healthy sleep, physical activity, chores or extracurriculars and family time
Tackling the screen issue can be very overwhelming, I admit. We live in a world where everything and everyone is connected and plugged in. Everyone uses screens for work, home and play. You can buy watches that link to our phones and we have the ability to stream movies and television shows on the go. But, that’s why it’s so important for the entire family to talk about screen use.
Step 1: Before talking about healthy media habits, we must first look at our own use.
First, make sure you look at your own screen use. As you’ve heard me say before, parents are their children’s first teachers and they are constantly watching and seeing what we do…whether we like it or not. When we ask our children to put the tablet down or turn off the television but don’t apply the same rules to ourselves can seem very contradictory and sends mixed messages to children. It also will make having the conversation about healthy media habits harder.
iOS users can find out how much screen use each person has (at least for the smart phone or tablets) by using Apple’s Screen Time to understand patterns of screen use even across various apps and games. (Parents, you can also use it to limit certain apps and games).
Step 2: Say No to “Background TV”
Parents should limit “background TV”, just having the television on when no one is really watching. This habit not only interferes with children’s attention but also children’s ability to control emotions and verbal interactions between parents and children.
Step 3: Figure out how much spare time can be used (reasonably) for screens
One way parents can limit screens is enforce family rules about screen time. However, parents (and kids) should know how much time is left in the day for screens. Figure out how much time for those types of activities and then what you have left is available for screens. . If screens displace or take the place of a child getting out to play outside, read a book or sleep, it can cause real problems including obesity, poor social and reading skills.
The AAP Media Plan can help families talk about and calculate how many hours a day can go towards screens. Make it a math problem: first, remind children there is only 24 hours in a day and then, talk through what needs to be done, while subtracting the time for each. Make sure to include sleep, extracurriculars, homework and other family obligations in your estimate. Setting aside time to introduce the media plan during a family meeting is one way to start the conversation.
RELATED: How to Make a Family Media Use Plan (Healthychildren.org)
Step 4: Now, put the rules into action
Most families I meet can do steps 1 to 3 with no problem.
Turn off background TV. Check.
Talk to the kids? Check.
That’s note the issue, it’s the day to day of following the media plan that is often harder to make stick.
This is not your generic sticker chart system. I’m talking about a screen time tracker system that ties into your allowance system. A system which gives children the ability to weigh the choices between screen time and allowance. Children will learn to plan and prioritize what other activities, chores or health behaviors need to be done (with parental oversight and active discussion).
HOW? WITH THE SCREEN TIME TRACKER FAMILY JUMPSTART KIT
I developed a family communication tool to help families like yours start talking about family tech rules during the school year and when school is out. It includes tracking sheets to monitor chores and allowable weekend screen time use.
In our home, we fought long and hard to draw the line of NO playing on tablets during the week. I’ll be the first to admit, it has been increasingly hard.
Our children, ages 10 and 12, use screens for a variety of reasons:
- as a way to be social with their friends,
- use shared documents on google drives for school assignments, and
- critique classmates’ work in interactive digital forums (required).
YET, there are things that HAVE to be done each day.
Our children must do certain things FIRST before using their electronics. Screens for leisure were allowed before dinner. All personal screens (including ours) went in a designated area at meals. Limiting screen use 1-2 hours before bedtime prevents unwanted exposure to blue light before bedtime, which is known to interfere with children’s sleep.
Our system encourages our children to learn how to prioritize everything that needs to be done and what we wanted to do with leisure time (spend time catching up on shows on Netflix! or video calls with friends) and trying to find the balance. With everything, moderation is key.
This family tool may be helpful for you too. So I decided to write about it and share it. Let me know if you use it. Feel free to send me comments. I love creating things and I am always working on revising tools like this to make sure it is easy to start, easy to use and practical.
I wanted to divide up chores “that are done to help the house run” versus other chores that can my kids can do which would help me out. At the same time, I wanted to instill healthy life skills but allow them to earn additional screen time for weekend use.
Now, wait…didn’t I just say we have to limit screen time and here I am offering my kids a chance to earn more??? Keep reading…
I wanted a system that made clear what actions or behaviors needed to be done BEFORE screen use (think home work, reading a book, having a snack, or walking the dog).
My kids can “bank” their extra screen minutes they earn for doing specific chores during the week. On Saturdays, we review what was earned, talk about what needs to be done for the day (and write it down on a checklist). With this system, we provide flexibility to use the screen time minutes during the day OR turn them in for more allowance. However, unlike cell phone plans, unused screen time minutes don’t roll over. I wanted to give them a chance to think about whether using the screen to have a little longer to play a game was worth more than earning money back to add to their allowance.
After you download the Family Tech Rules and Chore/Screen Tracker system, pre-plan before sitting down for the family meeting:
- Figure out what amount feels right for a baseline weekly allowance. We don’t give a set amount for each chore. We just put the agreed upon about in their savings each week. This way it isn’t “If I do this I should earn fifty cents” and tallying up chores. Now that our children are 10 and 12 years old, everyone gets the same baseline allowance amount.
- Figure out what your baseline weekend screen time use is (not just for the children, but parents too!). Pick something you can live with and fits within the Media Plan discussion you had with your children. You can’t waste endless hours of the day on screens and still do everything else you need to without compromising sleep and relationships. However, we all use screens for work and leisure time–so let’s just be smart about it and think about it in context of everything else.
Together with your children:
1.Make a list of chores/behaviors that are done to help the house run We grouped ours by specific categories. Yours may be different.
- self–care: brushing teeth and getting dressed
- care of personal space: includes make bed, turning off lights before heading downstairs
- care of shared space: flushing the toilet, wiping off bathroom sink, leaving kitchen the way you found it after eating
- household chores: collection of trash on Thursday nights, bringing dirty clothes to laundry area
2. Talk about daily tasks before screen use. I’ve included tech rules for when school’s in and school’s out because your family rhythms may be vastly different depending on what time of year it is.
3. Brainstorm additional chores that earn weekend screen time minutes
Some ideas: cleaning the toilet, mopping the kitchen floor, dusting the blinds, folding laundry, or vacuuming the bedroom.
With this system, our family talks openly about healthy versus unhealthy screen use. We set up family tech rules for EVERYONE. Household chores and expectations are reviewed. For our family, we also acknowledged screen use for work or school versus for leisure (in moderation).
Do we fall off the wagon sometimes? Yes, of course!
Having regular family meetings to discuss this has helped. Having a separate plan for when school’s in or out gives us an opportunity to re-evaluate and talk about our family needs more than once a year. The plan is there even if we have to restart and refocus from time to time. Because life happens.
What you get if you get my Family Tech Rules and Chore/Screen Tracker System
- Template for family tech rules for the school year
- Template for family tech rules for when school’s out
- Chore tracker sheet that you can customize for each child
- Weekend screen time use tracker for each child
Download the Family Tech Rules and Chore/Screen Tracker system and make it your own! I sincerely hope it helps you and your family develop healthy media habits together!
As always, don’t be shy–tell me what you think!
And don’t forget to download my separate and FREE “Our Family Tech Rules” template to develop your OWN family rules about tech and start talking with your family about these rules TODAY.
Would love to hear from you!
RELATED: Tired of Nagging Your Child To Get off Screens? (Download my free infographic with parenting tips)
Refer a friend link: Give $10 and get $10: I now use Greenlight debit cards (personalized with each child’s face) as a way to divide money earned into clear buckets (spend, save, give) and still have money conversations with our children.