There are certain “triggers” in my home that immediately change my kids’ mood and the whole tone of our home. They lead to immediate arguments and power struggles. Like finding out a friend was supposed to come over to play but can’t anymore. Cleaning up before bedtime. A special tower being painstakingly built only to be swiftly knocked down by a brother.
Technology. Ug. Technology.
I think I’ve been so fixated on limiting my kids’ screen time over the past couple of years, feeling guilty any time I turn on the TV or take out the iPad, that it’s become a constant battle between me wanting technology off and my kids wanting it on.
I know that screen time is addictive and has lots of drawbacks. But I’ve chosen not to completely “unplug” because I think TV shows, movies, the computer and iPad games can have benefits for kids when watched intentionally and mindfully, with parent interaction and conversation.
But none of these benefits I see in technology are worth a daily struggle with my kids over whether to watch or not to watch.
So I started really thinking about how I can stop arguments over technology. And after lots of brainstorming and trial-and-error, I think I’ve found that the answer is really pretty simple. By doing this one thing, we’ve almost entirely stopped any arguing over technology in our house.
We make it a part of our routine.
My son knows exactly when he can expect to watch a show (3:00 on weekdays) and he knows how many shows he can watch (2 commercial-free videos – a total of about 45 minutes). He rarely even asks to watch TV anymore outside of this time because he already knows when to expect it. If he does ask to watch TV and it’s not our scheduled time, my answer is, “Sure! We always turn on your TV shows at 3:00. What are you thinking about watching when the clock says it's time?”
There are times when I deviate from this although they’re pretty rare… when we have a special movie and pizza picnic night in the living room, when my kids are feeling under the weather, when I am not feeling well and need to rest, or when we have visitors in town and are out of our routine.
When we miss our normally scheduled TV time because of a scheduling conflict, I’ve found that my son doesn’t even ask about the change in our schedule. Now that we aren’t constantly negotiating over screen time, we are all much more relaxed about it.
How to start your routine
I don’t think that the details of your routine matter as much as just having a routine of some sort. You may choose to have your kids have screen time every day, just on weekdays, 2-3 times a week, or just once a week. I think that the most important thing is that your kids know exactly when they can expect to have screen time and they know how much they can expect.
If you're ready to start a screen time routine with your family, I suggest that you first decide what the routine will be. Then, sit down with your child and explain to them that they get to have a screen time routine now! (Make this exciting and positive!) I think it's a great idea to write down the routine for the first month, on the calendar, so it's really clear for your child. Depending on your child's age, you may even have them write it out.
If you have an older child, I think it's a great idea to hold a family meeting and make these decisions together. Maybe you can all work together to come to an agreement about how much TV your children can watch and when. (I would bring this article to a meeting with older children to establish your expectation that your family's screen time rules should follow AAP guidelines.) If your older child helps make these decisions for your family, they are much more likely to happily agree to and follow the rules without complaint!
If you've decided to make your routine 2 or 3 days a week, it's a good idea to choose specific days that will remain constant. So you may choose Monday, Wednesday, Friday for example. This will be helpful in creating predictability and consistency for your child.
When your child asks about screen time during a time outside of the routine, try to always phrase your "no" in a positive way. You may say, "Our family watches TV on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 2:00. It is Tuesday, so that means you get to watch TV tomorrow at 2! Start thinking about what you'll choose to watch!"
Is technology a "trigger" for conflicts in your home too? I'm curious to hear what other solutions are out there for this problem! Have you thought about making your child’s screen time routine? Or is it already? I’d love to hear what your screen time routine looks like!