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Monday, August 12, 2013

Tips for Managing Screen Time

Sitting mindlessly in front of the TV or video games for endless amounts of time has been a problem we have been battling in our house for a few years now. Some of my kids would literally sit in front of a screen all day of you let them. Yes. They really would.

We have employed various strategies to help put limits of the screen time. And might I just comment on how the term "screen time" keeps growing to include more and more devices and avenues for our kids to participate. In our house we have an array of devices the kids like to use. Most of them are "family devices," but our oldest has an iPod that she bought with her own money. It's a lot to try to monitor and limit.

But limiting screen time is something I'm willing to battle over in our family. Did you know that studies show that after 10 hours of screen time per week, children's grades begin to decline? It's not so much about the screens themselves being bad for our kids, it's the things they're not doing while they're spending all that time in front of the screens that becomes a problem. They're not playing, imagining, creating, building friendships, reading, helping out around the house, discovering hobbies... (The Read Aloud Handbook)

Here's what we have found that is working for us:

For summer or weekends:

1 TV show or thirty minutes of screen time in the morning.

1 hour of screen time after lunch (while I take a nap).

1 show or thirty minutes of screen time in the evening.

School days:

1 hour of screen time after lunch (while I take a nap).

1 show or thirty minutes of screen time in the evening.

I let my kids carry unused screen time over to the next day if they want. But their max is 2 hours in front of a screen at one sitting, and they can only carry over hours from ONE day. 

We have only been using this system for a few weeks now, and it was a bumpy start. I was getting a lot of comments from the kids like, "OH, I thought I turned on the TV at 12:30, not 12:00. Oops!" or "I thought you were going to tell me when my time was up." There was a refusal to take any responsibility for keeping track of their time. I was so frustrated about it all that I was looking into devices that attach to your TV or video game systems and keep track of viewing time for you.  But they were expensive and each device could only attach to one unit, it didn't seem like a viable option for our situation.

Then I saw these little timers (pictured at top pf this post) on Amazon. They seemed like they might do the trick. They sit on a base, and you set the timers on the base, not on the timer themselves. Then the timer can be put on your wrist (there's a strap), or clipped on your pants and taken wherever. The timer buzzes on both the timer itself as well as the base. So my kids don't have to watch the clock and keep track of their minutes, but they are getting a sense of how much time they are actually sitting in front of the TV. And I don't have to nag. They can ask for a timer when they want to use their screen time, and they know it's time to turn it off when the buzzer buzzes. 

The other day one of my kids said that the new time limits were helping them not want to watch so much TV anymore. And it seems to me this is indeed true. I gave them one free day this week before school starts, and told them they didn't need to use the timers or anything; a couple of them turned the TV off themselves after a bit and went outside. This isn't to say there wasn't complaining at the beginning. I was told it wasn't fair and wasn't enough "tiiiiimmmme" multiple times. 

I'm sure this is no fool proof system. And the timers we bought got mixed reviews, sounds like they sometimes stop working after only a short bit. Of course, other kinds of timers could work as well, I just like that I can keep track of the kids' time at the same time as them, and they can't screw up much of anything on the timers while using them.

I have no affiliation with the maker of these timers featured, and I'm not being paid to write this post.

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