The Best Way To Stop Being A Screen Time Nazi

How A Little Freedom In The Decision Making Process Changed Everything

Photo by Patricia Prudente on Unsplash

Screens. They have this magnetic force drawing us to stay plugged in for long periods of time. Kids are no exception to this rule. In fact, they are more susceptible if they lack limits. Screen time rules have been a popular topic of discussion in our house ever since the kids got their own devices.

Last summer, I believed I had the end all be all screen time rule. In a nutshell, the kids waited till 2pm to get their devices, leaving the morning free for their imagination. They came up with activities, played together as a group and didn’t get sucked into the vortex of addictive behavior.

Rules Are Meant For Breaking

It worked really well for the most part, sort of. There were times, for instance, like fighting with them at bedtime to get off. That one’s on me. I didn’t put an end time to the rules. They were allowed to play from 2pm on, having free reign until they went to sleep. In the summer, that could be anywhere from 8:30- 10pm.

If we didn’t go anywhere for the rest of the day, that could be a solid 7 hours of electronics if we weren’t careful. Seeing it here in black and white is appalling to me. How is it possible this could happen? What I didn’t realize was the rule of setting a hard limit in the morning resulted in the other extreme for the remainder of the day.

Back to the drawing board we go again for this summer. While I love the idea of not being on electronics in the morning, the rest of the day needed tweaking. They were bound by the rules unable to make their own usage decisions. When they got their devices, they could stay on for the rest of the day with no consequences because there were no more rules.

Revisiting Our Summer Rules

Recently, we sat down together and began tweaking the rules for summer break. With school still in session, we are test driving our program to check for errors. This is what the rules state:

  • At 10am, you may get on an electronic device if you choose to do so. From that time on, as an individual you have a total of five hours throughout the day to be on a screen. Once your allotted time is up, you must turn in all controllers and hand held devices.
  • To gain access of screen time, you must get dressed, eat breakfast, fold clothes and complete any chores needed to be done.
  • When you are ready to begin, find a parent to write down your starting time.
  • When you are ready for a break, find a parent to record your ending time. If you forget, the clock keeps running and so does your allotted time.
  • If you choose not to use your entire five hours, that is your prerogative. The hours do no carry over to the next day and the clock restarts.
  • If there is any hassle to give up said device at the end of your time, you may lose 15 minutes the following day.

Finding A Balance

Three test days have been done and so far I’m impressed with the results. Some kids who normally eat up their electronic time in one sitting, figured out how to spread it out. By giving them the opportunity to manage their own time, they concocted a schedule. I did have to remind my youngest to remember that once he used it all up, he was done for the day. It’s uncanny to watch this process, because with our previous limits, they became screen zombies. With this independence, they are choosing wisely.

During our trial run, after 45 minutes or so, they would take a break on their own accord. There were times when they wanted to do something together and forgo usage all together. I see the wheels turning in their heads calculating how much time they have left in the day. Most want to use the bulk of their screen time in the evening, so they have to manage during the day. I saw my children make wiser and clearer decisions about their own usage.

We also threw in a caveat for family movie night, so it does not count toward your individual screen time. Although, if you choose not to watch the movie, then the clock starts. This little addition was added for my kids who start watching the movie but leave midway to watch YouTube videos.

A Continuous Learning Process

We are going to continue test driving this procedure through the end of the school year allowing for tweaks to be made. While, five hours might still seem like a lot, this is huge progress from the previous 7 to 9 hours a day. Through keeping track of their times, it allows them to see how they are utilizing their time. It gives them a sense of independence and responsibility for their actions.

Even though, it’s only been three days, they understand the rules. When the timer goes off for an individual, they hand over their device without a fight, because they made the choice to use their five hours.

Writing down each child’s time and figuring out how much they have left is more work for me. But it has taken me out of the equation in the decision making process of when to be on electronics. I no longer have to crack the whip and be the screen time Nazi any longer. After several failed attempts at finding a system that works, I believe that letting my kids have a choice in the matter will benefit us all in the long run.

Put your oxygen mask on first. Self care is essential for all parents to make it through the day.

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