Simplify Screen Time by Making it More Complicated

Screen time is a big controversy in many people’s homes. What’s too much? What’s not enough? I know many people would say that all screen time is too much and there’s no such thing as not enough, but I wholeheartedly disagree with that sentiment. Don’t worry, I still feel a healthy dose of guilt every time my kids are looking at a screen. But I still believe it can be useful is totally necessary for a mom’s survival.



So how do we simplify the inevitable screen time?

By complicating it.

Simplifying Screen Time

I try to make things as easy on myself as possible. But for screen time, that means doing things a little differently for each individual child, and changing those methods whenever the need arises. That makes things a little more complicated (which I’m usually very opposed to) but in the end it simplifies things because I don’t have to try to justify why everyone has the same arbitrary rule when each kid has such differing needs and abilities.

Screen time for the 17-year-old:

This guy is a senior in high school, has his own car, his own money, and is practically a grown man. At this point I figure he’s old enough to make his own decisions about what to watch and when. I still arrange family time that pulls him off of his phone and into interacting with us. We also do a lot of camping during which phones are prohibited. Because nature. But on a daily basis, I just let him do whatever he wants with his screen time.

It feels weird to micromanage something like that when he’ll be living on his own in less than a year. Besides, he’s busy enough with school, homework, church activities, babysitting, sports and working, that I figure he deserves whatever down time he can get. As long as he gets his chores done eventually each day and babysits the littles whenever I need him to, I’m happy. And he’s responsible about getting those things done and helping me out around the house so I don’t feel the need to punish him with restrictions on his technology. Unless he gets a bad attitude, which rarely happens.

Screen time for the 15-year-old:

My second son struggles with depression and anxiety and that makes screen time a valuable escape for him. Again, like with the 17-year-old, he’s required to do certain chores, and we break up the monotony with lots of family time. But he’s good about participating in those things so I don’t really mind if he is on his phone watching Netflix in his free time. During the school year that free time is very limited because of sports, church, school, homework, chores, babysitting, etc. And he is exceptionally helpful and responsible so allowing the pretty much unlimited access to screen time is not a problem for me.

Screen time for the 10-year-old and 9-year-old:

For these girls, I am a lot more strict. They are younger and still learning to manage their time responsibly, so I have more rules for them. They absolutely have to get all their chores done BEFORE any screen time is allowed. During the school year I don’t really limit how much screen time they get because again, with school, chores, homework and sports, they don’t have a lot of down time either. But during the summer and on weekends, we try to limit it.

We’ve tried a couple of different methods to limit the screen time with them. One was to limit all screen time to two hours a day. They can use it whenever and however they’d like, but that’s all they get.

Another method we’ve tried is earning screen time. For every minute that they spend doing something active or creative (coloring, playing outside, reading, etc.) they earn a minute of screen time. The advantage to this is that although they can earn a lot more time, they are required to do other active and creative things for at least half of the day. The disadvantage is that it’s sometimes hard for them to “remember” to keep track of the time they’ve earned and the time they’ve spent. And when I’m not on top of them about it, they end up just watching whatever, whenever.

The method we used this past summer was devolving into a big free-for-all where I pretend I don’t notice they’re on the computer all day. I just lost the will to fight them on it and didn’t have the brain power to help them keep track of their time. But since we also spent whole days at the beach, with no technology whatsoever, I figure it balances out. Right? Plus, the end of the summer is all about survival anyway.

We also try having exceptions to the rules (when we’re actually enforcing them). For example, playing a video game with a family member is free time that they don’t have to count toward their two hours or their earned time. This is because we want to foster bonding between siblings.

On occasion, when it just feels like my kids have had way too much, I declare “No more technology” and they’re done for the day and have to find something else to do. This is necessary for those times when I’m not consistent with keeping track of their technology usage, things have gotten out of control, and I need to temporarily just “pull the plug.”

Screen time for the 2-year-old:

I try to limit his screen time to almost nothing. Sometimes I’m able to say no to screen time all day, every day, for days on end. But many days, I just need the occasional break from the incessant whining. Often, I absolutely have to get something done when he wants immediate attention that I can’t give him. It sounds bad, but it’s reality. When I’m late for an appointment and I need to shower, when I have to get dinner cooked and he won’t stop clinging to my leg, I have little recourse but to distract him with the screen. That’s when I put some silly or semi-educational kid’s show on YouTube for him.

Screen time is a reality of modern life, we just have to do what works for us to manage it effectively. Ideally, I think moderation is key. In reality, in an attempt at moderation, I often just end up letting them watch whatever they want until the guilt overcomes me and I ban it altogether. But I at least try to be reasonable in my moderating of screen time. Having different rules for the different kids makes things more complicated, but it’s easier than trying to explain why the rules are the same for everyone when their ages are so different.

Have you found something that works well for moderating your family’s screen time? What methods do you use to manage your kids’ usage of technology?

Momming is hard, amiright?

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