"I love your screen time methods, but what about for families with kids in different age groups? I've got teenagers in High School and Kids in elementary school. How can I make it easier to manage screen time for all of us?"
Not every situation or piece of advice around screen time is great for families in the "in between stage". I'm talking about those families that have kids of different ages like 16 and 14 followed by an 8 and 5 year old. Is it really ideal to expect that our teenagers are going to willingly follow the rules we set for our younger children? Of course not. However, I do have some great secret tips for you on how to make screen time with kids of different ages work in your home.
The best way to start is to make the screen time rules the same for everyone. It is unrealistic to expect that our teenagers will be on their tech devices for only an hour like our elementary age kids. However, we can set boundaries that say "We only use our tech devices between 9 am and 6 pm." Or "We are each allowed 1 hour of down time on tech devices each day." Whatever you are most comfortable with, make sure that your Family Tech Plan™ rules can easily apply to all of your children. This is one of the reasons why I discourage the use of phone contracts. Phone contracts really don't take into account all of the other tech devices in your home or the other kids present. We can run into lots of problems when we rely solely on phone contracts to be the rule enforcement in our homes.
A huge arguing point we have with teenagers is that they don't want to be treated like little kids. We also know that our teenagers cannot have free-range and aren't quite ready to be treated like full-grown adults yet. A great way for us to bridge this gap is to come to an understanding of approved tech activities. We want our kids to be allowed to use their devices and put limits on the things they do that aren't good or the best for them. We can do this by defining what is counted as down time, family time, school time, communication time, etc. However you want to categorize it in your family is the best way. Defining these activities will make the rules easier to enforce and help us better manage everyone's screen time.
When we do this, it also easier to grant "exceptions" to the rules without them being treated like exceptions. What does this look like? If our elementary schoolers aren't required to do homework online, then we can say that homework doesn't count as screen time for any of our kids. See how our expectation becomes different but our rule doesn't change? We aren't telling our teens they don't get down screen time if they have over two hours of homework. We are telling them that we expect them to use their tech time differently then their siblings. Yet, everyone can be on the same page.
We also have to make sure that screen time isn't being treated as a reward either. Treating screen time as a reward for completing chores, expected responsibilities, etc. creates an addictive habit loop for our kids. Such a habit loop can leave our kids dependent upon technology as a motivating force, which can backfire as they get older and their ability to use it freely grows.
Now we cannot forget to include the younger children and their objections. When our younger kids bring up the "unfairness" of our rules and expectations, we often will answer with "Because you're not old enough." Or "Because I said so!" Yet these answers don't really help us out in solving the problem. We want our younger kids to feel like they are growing up and being given the same privileges and opportunities as their older siblings; even if they aren't. One great way to do this is have them do a Self Responsibility Evaluation. Even our older kids can do one. I have several included in Screen Time Responsibility Systems that families love to use. It really helps our kids put into perspective that "we will give you this when you're ready."
"What if my teenager is old almost leaving the house (17-18, Junior/Senior)? How do I get them on board with screen time?" This is the golden ages of teenagers. We have to look at it as the years when we're building adult relationships with our kids that will last long after they're gone. It's not time for us to try to control their actions anymore. My favorite title for these ages is "Mini-Adults". Why?
They're still dependent on us for the major things-food, shelter, water, the phone and internet bills and a few other things. By now, we've weaned them off of most of the things we pay for. They're in the years where what they do here will be the defining patterns for how well they will survive and live in the real world. We want them to live in the world, not just exist and survive it.
Screen time, like everything else, has to take on a new relationship. This is where we tell them, "You're almost an adult. So we're going to treat you like one. Your job is to set your own boundaries and help us set the proper example for your siblings. We are here to guide and help you, but screwing up at this point means it goes away and doesn't come back. Those are real-world consequences and you need to learn them before the real world hands out the harsher punishments."
Teenagers LOVE to hear this. I know this may not be ideal for every home. If your kid is this age and you're still having issues with screen time, make them pay for everything themselves. Usually they wake up after visiting the school of hard knocks and try a whole different approach. If you need advice or assistance in a specific situation, contact me here.