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Ask An Expert / Children / fatherhood / Mama Drama / Motherhood

How can I negotiate screentime limits with my kids?

How can I negotiate screentime limits with my kids?

Dear Mama Drama:

Now that we’re into the lazy days of summer, I’m finding my kids are spending an inordinate amount of time in front screens of all sizes. I want to be flexible, but also want to have some limits. Playing outside and being creative are things I’d like to be part of their summer, but they get hooked into electronics and have a hard time stopping.

How can I help them find a better balance?

~Screen Weary Mama

 (photo credit)

Dear Screen Weary:

You can be certain there are mamas all over the country asking themselves this exact question. I know our mothers did and they only had televisions to worry about. With so many screen options in our children’s lives, it is important to have ongoing conversations about screen time.

So, the first step is to start that conversation with your kids today. Some things to discuss and negotiate are:

  • How do they want to use their screen time this summer?
  • What constitutes a screen? TV, phone, iPod, iPod, computer, e-readers, etc.
  • What things are acceptable on screens? What things are not?
  • How much time is reasonable to be on screens each day?
  • Do they want to have a set amount of screen time each day or each week or would they rather it was more flexible? What might that look like?
  • If you have set amount of time, can they carryover unused minutes from one day or week to the next or do they disappear if unused?
  • Can they use their screen minutes anytime they want, do they need to ask first, and are there off-limits times?
  • How does behavior impact screen time privileges?
  • Do they automatically have screen time or do they need to earn it? Or a combination of both?
  • What other activities do you want them engaging in?
  • What other activities do they want to engage in?
  • Should they have time expectations for other activities, too?

Some families find precise limits are necessary and important and other families find more flexible time expectations work for them. You and your children will have to explore what meets your needs. Try to keep it simple, but if it gets complicated write it down so everyone is on the same page.

Plan to check in with them periodically to see how everyone thinks the plan is working. Make sure that the potential for change is part of the original agreement.

Having conversations like these helps your kids to take ownership for their choices, provides insight for both you and them as to the others’ perspective, and allows all parties to be treated with respect. It also lays the groundwork for open communication about other more difficult conversations that will come up as they grow.

Let us know how you handle screen time with your kids.

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  1. Fortunately we’ve been so busy this hasn’t been an issue…yet. But on those lazy, hot days when no one wants to go outside, it definitely will be. We already have parameters on when they can play video games (2X per week) and I’m a lot more flexible on TV/movie time if they’re occupying most of their day otherwise. Last week, I set a limit of two hours, which was eaten up by a movie. When they wanted to watch something else, I told them they needed to go play outside, help around the house, etc. and earn screen time. Seemed to work and now they view it as a privilege, not a right.

  2. Absolutely limit it. My kids are allowed 1 hour per day. More if they did a lot of physical activity.

  3. My kids have to earn their screen time. That means they do they do their math tables, reading and “word of the day” before they can tune in to electronics. It’s all about consistency.

  4. This is something we have struggled with a lot the past 6 months. It’s rough to get my kids off the screens and doing something that doesn’t plug in. Time limits work the best but it’s tough to see my kids struggling to find something to do that isn’t plugged in. They’ve lost a lot of interest in life’s joys like riding bikes and just playing.

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