One day this summer I lost my mind.
You know when you see your kids all zoned out on screens? Phones, TV’s, tablets. It was a beautiful day outside. Yet I had 3 kids lying on the couch like zombies.
In a moment of rage induced brilliance I took EVERYTHING away. I unplugged the computer and carried it out of the room. I took the XBOX and the Wii and tucked them away in cold storage. I seized ALL of the devices and sent them outside.
After cooling my jets, I came up with a summertime experiment (that we’ve decided to continue indefinitely). I wanted to reduce screen time, get everyone outside more, but most importantly to BUILD BETTER HABITS.
Here are the screen time rules and guidelines I put in place:
Define The Purpose
This has two parts.
These rules and reasons might look different at your house. Here’s what it sounds like at my house:
What Are These Rules For?
- These rules are not punishments
- These rules are to help you build good habits
- We want you to have fun, we want you to do the things you want to do, we just want you to learn how to do them at the appropriate time
- We’re working on building habits
- Our top priorities are your health and happiness
- It’s our job as parents to give you the best shot we can at health and happiness and habits are a big part of that
What Are These Devices For?
- Technology in and of itself isn’t “bad”
- Phones are for communicating
- TV and Tablets are for entertainment
- The computer is for work and education
Define and understand the purpose of the rules and devices. Set the tone. Frame things positively. This doesn’t have anything to do with lack of trust or that phones and technology are evil. There’s a lot of responsibility that comes with using these devices (oh and P.S. THEY ARE DESIGNED TO BE ADDICTIVE). We all need to be proactive in building healthy habits in the way we use them.
Put It All On The iPad
Take all of the social media, apps, and games on your teenager’s phones and put them on the iPad or tablet. Do the same thing with your own apps and games while you’re at it. For some of these apps they’ll need to keep their passwords and have the ability to log in and out of apps like Instagram.
Oh, did I mention the iPad is password protected? They have to come to me to get into the iPad itself. That little moment also creates a moment of accountability or a “start time” for how much time they are going to choose to use the iPad for.
The point here is that a phone is for communication and that’s what we’re going to use it for. Calling and texting. We left the basic utility apps on their phones, but all of the time wasters? GONE.
We’re choosing to use the iPad for entertainment. We’ve defined entertainment as that moment when you make a conscious choice to seek out a game or to entertain yourself. (As opposed to the habitual choice of constantly turning to your phone for a game or getting lost in Instagram in a moment of boredom that turns into hours of wasted time). I think as adults we can all relate.
The iPad comes out after they’ve done things like chores, or spent some time outside etc. .
One “TV” — Yep. Just ONE.
How many TV’s do you have at your house? Now how many devices are the people at your house using as a TV? In our case, there was a computer upstairs that was constantly streaming Netflix. My kids were also watching videos on their phones or on the iPad. We’re done with that.
I put that computer away for the rest of the summer. And guess what? The time they spent streaming Netflix almost entirely disappeared. Out of sight, out of mind. Our actual TV is downstairs and a bit out of the way. Once again, choosing to go to that TV required more a conscious choice to spend time there.
I had to pull that computer back out for the school year because the computer is meant for work and education, but it’s password protected and meant for homework.
Here’s What Happened
I didn’t have to nag anymore. I wasn’t constantly policing and complaining.
On THEIR OWN the kids were making better, MORE CREATIVE choices with their time.
They Actually Said THANK YOU
Here’s the thing. Kids KNOW they don’t feel good glued to screens. They feel it. They’ll admit it. They know it.
Don’t get me wrong, they didn’t say thank you right away. But each of them, unprompted has told me what has changed for them:
- From my 8-year-old: “Mom, I’m glad you took the computer away from the upstairs. I play outside more. I like it better”.
- From my 13-year-old: “Guess what? I don’t even miss Instagram. I wasted soooo much time when that was on my phone.”
- From my 15-year-old: “I look around at my friends when we are hanging out and realize how much time we are staring at our phones instead of doing something fun. It’s lame.”
Did I Go Too Far?
Some of you may read this and say I’m over the top. Or that I’m helicopter parenting my kids and their technology choices. Tony Fadell, one of the minds behind the iPod and the iPhone said “I wake up in cold sweats thinking, what did we bring to the world.” He goes on to say: “A lot of the designers and coders who were in their 20s when we were creating these things didn’t have kids. Now they have kids,” he says. “And they see what’s going on, and they say, ‘Wait a second.’ And they start to rethink their design decisions.”
If the guy that helped create these things has concerns, so do I. I’m literally not willing to leave my kids to their own devices when it comes to this. As parents we have to be more engaged than ever and we need to be constantly evaluating how we are using all of these devices ourselves.
Ultimately, this is what’s working for us NOW. It will probably change and evolve as my kids continue to get older and mature. Parenting calls for flexibility. Some of you may think that these rules don’t scream “FLEXIBILITY” but I promise you our household is a better place because of them.
What are the screen time rules at your house? I’d love to hear what’s working for YOU!