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The Secrets To Run Screen Time Guilt-Free With our Kids This Summer

I live in Las Vegas, NV where during the summer it's too hot to play outside without getting "fried to a crisp" as we say here. At 6-7 am it's as hot as 85 to 90 degrees and by 4 pm in the afternoon it can be around 115 degrees F. So while most other people say "Screen Free Summer!!" for their kids, at my house that's unrealistic sometimes. So how do we manage screen time for our kids during the summer months when sometimes all we want to do is hide inside by the A/C unit and eat popsicles? 

1. Determine Acceptable Screen Activities

In our home, we have our Family Tech Plan that lists what devices my kids can use, where they can use them and who they can use them with. As part of our plan, I have also written down a list with each of my kids of acceptable Screen Time Activities. For this summer that consists of 1 family movie per day or a maximum of 3 TV show episodes. I always have a list of shows and movies my kids can choose from to avoid the fight of what they get to watch. And since we don't have cable or satellite TV, this makes it really easy.

My older kids and neighborhood teens like to play video games and that is allowed only when dad is home. This has always been our rule with video games since my husband is a super video game nerd. Your rule may be different, but the principle still stands. Determine what activities you want to allow your kids to do and then let them ask for others to add to your list.

2. Set Time Zones

The next big thing I do every time we change routines is set time brackets (I call them "Time Zones") for when we can do these screen time activities. Since we live where it's hot, my Time Zones are when it's going to be too hot for my kids to play outside. For us, that's usually between 9 am - 2 pm since our backyard gets shade in the afternoon. I don't like screen time for kids in the morning since it's too easy to "waste the day". So no screens will be allowed until 12 pm. That leaves us with 12 pm to 2 pm. This will be the time slot when I can say to my kids, "Yes!" to screen time if they ask. If they don't ask, I don't remind them or use it for myself to get a quiet minute. Instead I use activities like these from Busy Toddler that will even entertain my "big" kids.

3. Time Limits

Every child and home is different and every child reacts to the amount of screen time differently. There are even different types of screen time. Either way, for my kids, 30 min to 1 hour is our sweet spot. Any longer than that-no matter what the activity is-and my kids will turn into the Demon Baby from Incredibles 2. No joke. So this is how much time I will allow my kids to watch on any given day and for any given time. There are exceptions, but they're rare. Here are some questions you can ask yourself when determining how much screen time for your kids is too much:

Ask yourself:

  • How much time does my child need to do ______ activity?
  • How many episodes/rounds/likes/etc. can they do before it gets out of hand?
  • When are they most likely to use it?
  • What does their doctor recommend?
  • Why do I let them have screen time?
  • What do I want them to do instead?

4. Use The Right Words

Using the right words with your kids around managing screen time is important. I want to always be a "Yes" parent, but that doesn't mean I give into them whenever they ask. I just phrase things so they always sound like I'm saying "Yes." now or at a later time. These are common phrases I say to my kids with screen time that actually work:

  • "Yes, you can do _______ when the clock on the oven says the numbers ________."
  • "Ok after _____ numbers come on the oven you may watch ______ and _____ episode."
  • "Remember, once the words come on the screen, that's it. It's time to do ________ (always have another activity ready to go that's fun or they love to do.)"
  • "Yes you can do _______ tomorrow after you've don your morning responsibilities." (That's what we call chores in our house.)
  • "Oh, do you have any tokens left today? (No). Then Tomorrow, when you get more tokens you can use them to watch ________."
  • "Have you checked with your Screen Time Checklist to see if you can?"

Using these phrases really has helped my kids stop fighting with screen time issues. I also use these other screen time tricks to stop the fight as well. My favorite thing we're doing this summer, now that I have readers, is Screen Time Check-Ins!! 

5. Have A Time-Tracking System

This summer we're going to track our screen time usage with these Screen Time Responsibility Systems I made for my clients. The systems are a great way for us to teach our kids how to manage their own time. There's 3 system models I've developed, but we'll use the token system for now. It's been fantastic with our younger kids and our neighborhood teens love the ticket system. Basically, our kids turn in tokens or tickets for screen time. Each token/ticket equals a certain amount and once the time is up, and the tokens are gone, you're done. You can read more about it here.

A few other tech hacks I use to keep track of how much screen time my kids get are: turning off auto-screening, setting timers and sometimes-usually when we're not home-by using our router security controls. When they're done, we always do the next step.

6. Out Of Sight

Whenever we're done with using our screen devices, we always put everything away. I have lockers for our smaller things like controllers, cell phones, tablets, etc. and a storage shelf for my bigger things like laptops, printers, etc. Why do we lock things up? Have you heard this saying:

"Out of sight; out of mind."

That's the whole idea. It also serves to keep the tech safe from damage by our younger child. I can't tell you how many times I've been thankful he didn't actually drop my cell phone or husband's work tablet in the toilet because he couldn't get the keys to fit in the lockers. It also helps my kids from sneaking devices when they're bored.

7. List Of Prepared Alternate Activities 

The last thing we do is give them a list of alternate activities they can do. Our home is pretty minimalist with toys and activities because we try to only add things that bring value into our lives.  I use these "Have I Earned Screen Time?" sheets in our home to encourage my kids to do other, fun productive and life-teaching skills before they seek to entertain themselves online.

8. Be The Example

Above everything else we implement in our home, nothing speaks louder than my actions. My kids are perfect parrots right now. The mimmic everything I say, do and even spell. That will not change as they get older. In fact, as they turn into toddlers 2.0 (teenagers), they will start to criticize my behaviors that don't align with what I teach them. I know because that's how I was with my parents. So my husband and I strive, above all else, to set and live the expectations we expect our kids to. We're not perfect at it by any means. We struggle from time to time, but the important thing is that our kids know we love them and we don't ask them to do anything we aren't willing to do ourselves. What are you doing to manage your Family Screen Time this summer?


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