Six months ago, I was seriously afraid that I would go into my littlest one’s bedroom one morning and find he had turned into an iPad overnight. The boys had received iPad minis for Christmas and they were obsessed with them. It was freaking me out and I questioned whether we had made a horrible mistake putting this technology in their little hands.
We struggled through and ultimately, I am happy to say, found our way to the other side – a place where my kids enjoy the entertainment and education their tablets provide, but are no longer fanatically preoccupied with them.
Maybe they just needed time for the novelty to wear off. Maybe they needed warm weather to return, enticing them back outdoors. I’m sure those were factors.
But more importantly, after some trial and error, my husband and I finally developed a set of tools to help us keep screen time in check and return our kids’ focus to life-beyond-the-screen.
Screen Time Coupons
Like many kids, my youngest is notorious for “forgetting” whether he has already watched TV or played on his iPad in a given day, which makes it difficult for him to remember that he has already used up his screen time. What he needs is something to make “one hour a day” concrete. For this, screen time coupons have worked beautifully.
It’s super simple. Each morning, I stick four “coupons” under a magnet on the fridge – two for Bee and two for Zip. Each coupon is good for 30 minutes of screen time. When one of the boys wants to watch TV or play on his tablet, he has to “turn in” a coupon. When the coupons are gone, so is their screen time for the day.
This physical reminder removes me from the role of “screen time historian” – “You already watched two TV shows today.” “No I didn’t.” “Yes you did, remember….” Even better, once those coupons are gone the boys are less inclined to ask for more screen time. That means their brains stop thinking about iPads and start thinking about Legos and turtles and becoming stunt bikers.
I’ve also learned to pick my battles and not gripe about when they choose to use their coupons. Yes, it drives me crazy when they ask for screen time first thing in the morning (Go out and PLAY, children!), but in the end an hour a day is an hour a day. If they spend an hour playing Panda Pop before 9 am, they have the rest of the day to do other things.
When The Timer Goes Off…
One of the challenges we’ve faced – which I know is an issue for a lot of families – is getting the kids away from the screen when their time is up. This is especially tough with hand-held devices. Although I’ve experimented with a number of different tools to enforce time limits, in the end I keep coming back to the good ol’ microwave timer, set for 30 minutes. Of course, no matter how many 5-minute warnings I give or how many times I encourage them to wrap up before time is up, the boys are inevitably in the middle of a game when the timer goes off and need “one more minute!”
Here is our trick: I often do give them this “extra minute,” but then I set the timer again and let them know that if their tablets are not put away in the next 60 seconds, they won’t see them for a couple of days. Lemme tell you, those tablets fly back into their drawer!
Which brings me to our last trick…
Out of Sight
We store the iPads and other electronic devices in a drawer in the kitchen. No iPads in bedrooms or lying on the coffee table, waiting to be picked up, just begging to be played with. Devices come out when screen time begins and get returned when screen time ends. Besides creating some physical “boundaries” around the devices, we’re also teaching the boys that they need to take care of the iPads by storing them in a safe place.
So there you have it – three strategies that help us enforce screen time limits without fuss and have returned sanity (or our own version of it) to our home. I’d love to hear what tricks work for your family!