Family Guidelines for Screen Time

guidelines for screen time

On December 17, 1963, “I Want to Hold Your Hand” played for the first time on American radio. It ignited a fire that quickly spread across the country called Beatlemania. By February of 1964, “I Want to Hold Your Hand” was Billboard Magazine’s number one hit.

Following the Beatles rocket to fame, American culture was bombarded by British music, fashion, and film (think James Bond, Mary Poppins, and mini skirts). This shift in culture was labeled “The British Invasion.”  In an editorial dated December 29, 1963, The Baltimore Sun warned:

America had better take thought as to how it will deal with the invasion.

The digital invasion is upon us. Our culture has been forever changed by the introduction of the internet in the 90’s. We now have the world at our fingertips. This has both benefits and difficulties (read more on that here). I echo The Baltimore Sun’s warning: Parents had better take thought as to how they will deal with the invasion. 

I am walking this with you. We are constantly adapting and tweaking our guidelines to meet the changing needs of our kids and the ever-changing technology we encounter. These are a few guidelines we try to follow in order to harness the power of screens in our home.

Limit screen time.

We are essentially screen-free through the week with the exception of homework. Previously, I allowed the kids to play games on their tablet or family computer after all of their responsibilities were fulfilled. However, I got so much attitude from them as they fulfilled those duties (homework and chores), that I eliminated it all together. As soon as screen time was off the table, I had a lot less attitude to deal with in the afternoons.

On the weekends and in the summer we are more lax. The kids get an allotment of screen time once their responsibilities are taken care of. In the summer I add reading and physical activity to their list of “have to’s.” Once the screen time is gone, it’s gone. It’s time to find something else to do.

Screens only in family areas.

The children are only allowed to use computers and tablets in family areas. It’s not that we don’t trust them. It only takes one mis-stroke, one wrong click, one innocent search to expose them to danger. My daughter’s first glimpse at erotica came from an online Barnes and Noble search for pet books in the school library. That was with a filter and with an adult, at the age of 6. If something harmful jumps into our home, we want to be with the kids to catch it and talk about it.

No Google and No Youtube without an adult.

Technology is a wonderful for the curious child. Think how many “why” questions never make it to a parent’s ear. My kids know they can ask Google and get a quick answer instead of my non-committal, “that’s interesting; we should look that up sometime.” They know how to look up songs they hear on the radio, instructional videos on manicures, and documentaries on the American Revolution.

However, this curiosity is bound to lead to a Pandora’s Box or two. I am not prudish, but I am protective. I want to make sure the questions they ask Google are age-appropriate. I also want to be within ear and eye shot of the videos they watch on Youtube, where 300 hours of new content are uploaded each minute. 

No screens at the table.

(That means you, too, Mom!) IPads, tablets, TV’s, and phones are not invited to dinner with us. This is a special time for us to talk, teach our kids in social skills, and make connections. Dinner time is sacred at our house. Ringing phones go unanswered. Text messages go unread. And we all live to tell about it.

You don’t need a cell phone or email. Yet.

My big kids are in 2nd and 5th grade. According to them, they are the last one in their class to get a phone. I remind them that I was in college before I got my first cell phone. That elicits an eye roll and a groan. As it should. They live in a different world. We will get them a phone one day. We will know it when that day gets here. For now, we are teaching phone and text etiquette by monitoring all text messages, which is easy because they go through my phone. (We will continue to monitor text when they have their own phones, which also elicits an eye roll and a groan.)

They also claim to be the last of their friends to have a personal email address. They are practicing for that magical day when they get their very own @gmail through school email and using my email occasionally. Most email and social media accounts have a minimum age of 13. Neither of my kids are 13, so neither are engaged. No Instagram. No Facebook. No Snapchat (never ever, don’t even ask). Not only am I keeping their internet and app usage age-appropriate, I am teaching them about respecting and following rules. No lying about ages or signing up under a false name. The truth and nothing but the truth, mam.

These guidelines are not better or best. It is just what we have decided for our family. It isn’t so much what your guidelines for screen time are, only that you have some kind of boundaries for you and your children.

I love to hear what other families are doing as it provides both reinforcement for what we have decided and it challenges my thinking on unhealthy habits we may have formed. Leave a comment about some guidelines your family has adopted!

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