What's your screen time policy with your 5-8 year olds?
August 10, 2018 9:46 AM   Subscribe

How long should kids be playing on ipads/computers/TV? Every outing seems to start with "How long is this going to take? How much time until I can go home and ipad/nintendo switch"? How do you strike a balance?

I feel particularly hypocritical about this subject, because I spent every waking moment between the ages of 12 and 25 in front of my PC.

I think I'm epsecially sensitive to this because it's summertime and days are long. Kids are playing outside a lot with their friends, we're still doing swimming and reading, but I notice that between the ipad and nintendo switch they still manage to get 3+ hours/day.

Once school starts, they won't have as much time, so this is ok, right?
posted by aeighty to Human Relations (19 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
We have two kids, a 9 yo and a 15 yo. With oldest son, it's sort of a lost cause, and has been since around the age of 12. Teens live online. It's where they do their socialization (much like I used to live on the phone).

With our younger son, I encourage him to break up his screen time during the day. We have a Google Home, so he uses it to self-regulate to a certain extent by setting timers -- screen time for 45 minutes, followed by something else.

I also require him to read books in order to access the Switch. So he'll read for 20 or 30 minutes (using the timer half the time) and then get to play. He also has to play outside in the afternoon, and he's actually outside from lunch until dinner, and then goes back outside after dinner. There are lots of other kids in our neighbourhood.

I wish my oldest son would do something other than hang out online, but he used to play team sports, and has a part-time job, and during the school year he plays in two or three school bands. His marks are good (all A's) and he does do things with his friends IRL.

Part of the problem is that I work from home and am also always online, so one idea I've had is to model better behaviour. I carry books with me around the house that I actually read (rather than staring at my phone) and now that he's basically stopped growing I'm going to start going to the gym more, and then invite him to come and work out.

In summary, in the younger years we try to set some structure and then we try to model behaviour as the kids get older.
posted by JamesBay at 9:57 AM on August 10, 2018 [5 favorites]

During the summer, my children were allowed screen time after dark (Arbitrarily 8:00pm).

(If it was raining and they had no other alternatives, we would sometimes declare a screen day. However, we would usually just tell them to read a book. We would offer to drive them to the library if they wanted.)
posted by AugustWest at 10:02 AM on August 10, 2018 [5 favorites]

Whatever works for your family is great!! You aren’t missing out on physical activity and the days are really long! If it isn’t working for you then set some limits. A limit could be that if they bug you about the time participating in family life their screen time could be cut. That would be my focus, kids don’t get to skip out on or pester/nag about leaving family time to get back to screens.

In our family we have less time allowed because we notice an increase in negative behavior (grumpiness, attitude, entitlement) if our 5 year old spends much more than an hour with any screen in a day. We deal with that by limiting content and time. Or if he has a high screen day we do a no screen day the next day. This seems to work for our kid because the screen less days are usually great behavior wise. If the behavior part wasn’t happening we’d feel totally fine allowing more time. When he whines about tv all morning he’s actually telling us he probably needs to do a brain and body stimulating activity outside and then can take some relaxing time with a screen.
posted by Swisstine at 10:02 AM on August 10, 2018 [5 favorites]

I have two kids, ages 5.5 and 7.5, and we limit screen time to an hour or two of Minecraft on Friday afternoons, 2-3 hours of open iPad time on Saturday mornings during which they can choose from a variety of apps or shows to watch, and maybe once a month a movie on Saturday night. No screens on at all Sunday-Thursday. We never break from that routine because if we give an inch they will try to take a mile and my life is too short to be spending it saying no a thousand times to whining children. This way they know it's not even worth it to ask. We don't do more than we do because we noticed that they were either zombies or jerks after the screens were put away and wanted to minimize zombie/jerk time.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 10:03 AM on August 10, 2018 [8 favorites]

The inability to contend with even slight boredom suggests they would benefit from less screen time and less programmed time. Try regular visits to the library for books and music, as well as going for walks, maybe with a flower/ tree/ plant/ bug guide. I have always read a lot, and between work and web, I read less, and am less skilled at reading books, so I've been working on that.
posted by theora55 at 10:03 AM on August 10, 2018 [8 favorites]

One way to handle this is to give them a set of tokens where each token is 1/2 hour of screen time. Give them the amount you think is good for the week (to maintain status quo, that would be 42 tokens, sounds like), and then let them cash them in whenever they like. But once they're gone the device is off limits.

The challenge there is whether watching the /other/ person's screen time counts. :)

3 hours a day in a balanced summer doesn't sound horrific to me. However, my kids would /lose/ screen time for every time they asked me that question past the first time. Not meanly, just "I want our family to focus on the fun we're having right now, so if you ask me again if we're going home so you can watch iPad, I'm going to say no iPad." However if you say that you have to follow through.
posted by warriorqueen at 10:32 AM on August 10, 2018 [4 favorites]

Sonia Livingstone is a kids and tech/screens researcher and her work is really pragmatic. This is the blog for her lab, with the tag screen time. I'd strongly recommending reading through this.

Some of her greatest hits include: how "screen time" isn't really a good category (like, why is FaceTiming with Grandma okay but a game is not - they are both technically time in front of a screen.) And this overall review. The trouble with having screen time rules.

She suggests that parents ask themselves these questions regarding screen time:
- Is my child physically healthy and sleeping enough?
- Is my child connecting socially to friends and family online and offline?
- Is my child engaged with and achieving in school?
- Is my child pursuing interests and hobbies?
- Is my child having fun and learning in their use of digital media?

If your answers are mostly no, it is time to worry about screen time.
posted by k8t at 10:41 AM on August 10, 2018 [11 favorites]

My policy at that age was an hour a day. When they were at the younger end, it was in the afternoon (to give me a breather). As they got older, it switched to right before bed. Some people will tell you that that's bad, but it worked for us. Screen time was from 7:00 - 8:00 but didn't start until they were ready for bed, so if they hadn't brushed their et cetera until 7:15, they'd end up with only 45 minutes of screen time.

They had extra screen time as needed -- plane rides, long car rides, doctor's waiting rooms, Mama is going insane and needs thirty minutes of nobody talking to her, that sort of thing.
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:53 AM on August 10, 2018 [2 favorites]

Father of a 9-year-old here. Generally, we require as parents, certain chores or tasks to be done first and that the screen time is balanced with doing other things. We also have high expectations regarding behaviour and the treatment of others. So during the summer, as our kid is off to various camps during the day (where he gets loads of physical activity free of screens), he has roughly only a few available hours in the evening. He can use that time any way he feels like as long as the chores get done first - so the quicker he gets them done the more time he has. If he misbehaves or gets overly mouthy or aggressively stubborn he loses screen privileges. During the school year it is similar with some slight variations depending homework.

On the weekend it is a bit different. My wife often works on weekends so we have a few set tasks that we enjoy doing together - usually a walk to the market (2km), shopping at the market and getting something to eat (usually Vietnamese food). After that, he can have a couple hours of screen time spent in whatever way he'd like - movies, TV, video games, or whatever. This usually is time I can get a few things done. The rule is that when his mum comes home he's got to shut it down. We're more flexible with chores on the weekend as well. If my wife has the weekend off we usually have a variety of things we do together as a family. My son gets carsick very easily, especially with screens in the car, so he doesn't play games while traveilling though he does listen to audiobooks while we travel. If we are visiting with family or friends no screens are allowed unless everybody is playing. We allow devices with the waiting is particularly onerous - such as waiting in a doctor's office and things like that.

The other thing we do with screen time is that we'll play together - Minecraft, one of the Lego games, any of the fun co-op Switch games. So we often will discuss strategies or building projects along with that. For Minecraft, I've gotten him into the habit of planning things out on paper as an example.

As to whether they are ok? Probably. I watched about 8 hours of TV in summer when I was growing up and I'm only moderately disturbed. But I do have an expansive knowledge of garbage TV from the 80s that has won me fame and derision.
posted by Ashwagandha at 1:07 PM on August 10, 2018 [2 favorites]

7 year old and 2 year old.

30 minutes in the morning 30 at night, but that's up to an hour+ at night in the summer. Also don't allow use of ipad, phone, games yet for the simple reason that shows don't have "one more level" or "just another minute" or "just one more turn"

As person who has realized it's 4am and I'm still playing CiV 5 that pull can wait for my kids.
posted by French Fry at 1:27 PM on August 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

My daughter is 10 and loves to watch crafting and how-to videos on youtube. I have listened to and read reports of increased incidence of depression among teens who watch a lot of youtube videos alone so I talked about this with her to help her understand why she needs to limit her youtube time in lieu of other activities, like watching movies. I think movies are perfectly fine and she tends to watch British historical movies with lots of costumes, or other imaginative high quality movies. I'm particualarly worried, though, about her interest in fashion and makeup at such a young age and the youtube videos have become increasingly in that vein. On the other hand I think it's perfectly normal for her to be interested in these topics even at her age, I just ponder whether she will get more involved in an unhealthy way, so we monitor with that in mind. She does play piano but absolutely hates reading.

Rule is that she needs to have her homework, chores and piano practice done and then can have about 2 hours of screentime, preferably movies but youtube ok in moderation.
posted by waving at 1:35 PM on August 10, 2018

Our kids have always been very limited with screen time. Before they were teens, they were limited to 30 minutes on school days, after chores in the evening. On weekends, they got 45 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the evening after chores. Their Xbox/Playstation time is still limited the same way even at their ages (14 and 16). However, they now have phones and they are on their screens more than I would like, but they didn't get smartphones until they were each 14.
posted by ceejaytee at 1:43 PM on August 10, 2018

Our six year old had had Saturdays as his “watching day” for the last few years, so that we don’t have to argue about it the rest of the week. There are often exceptions, but almost always initiated by us — like if he’s watching a show together with his dad. If he asks himself during the week, I’ll say “it’s not your watching day”, and that settles it.

We don’t limit on Saturday itself, and I sometimes feel we should, but he usually plays a bunch outside or with his friends anyways on Saturday so he’s not on the screen all day.

We don’t do video games. When my teenage stepson comes in the summer, we set up his Xbox, but that’s disconnected during the year. Six-year-old has asked a couple of times but I’ve given him a flat “no, we won’t be doing that in our house” and so far so good.

Overall I feel that it’s working for us. (Now with the two-year-old and the iPhone, that’s a different issue!...)
posted by wyzewoman at 1:54 PM on August 10, 2018

We do 2 hours total screentime allowed per day. All responsibilities must be fulfilled first. There is so much to do and see and be in this world. I have a really hard time allowing more device use. My secret favorite weeks are when the kiddos get in enough trouble to lose screentime as a consequence. We have higher quality family time, do, and create so much more.
posted by this-apoptosis at 2:07 PM on August 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

Just a note to say that if that sounded judge-y, it wasn't meant. It's much harder now than when I raised a kid, and it wasn't easy then. But worth it.
posted by theora55 at 5:00 PM on August 10, 2018

I think the amount of time is okay, but the whining is not. I don't think you need to have set amounts of time, if the amount of time your kids are playing games, watching things, etc works for you. Having a discussion about whining might be good though. See if you can come to some rules that work for you. Maybe if they whine about wanting to go home and play video games that will be a no video game day. Or maybe they're volunteering for a chore. You could probably even brainstorm with them some and get some buy in. Basically let them know that activity is normally fun, but they are making it less fun with their whining and that comes with some consequence.
posted by Margalo Epps at 5:05 PM on August 10, 2018 [2 favorites]

My kid is now 17, and at the age of 11 they won an ipad in a contest and we quickly had to figure out how to help them manage their device usage in a way that seemed healthy and responsible. What we came up with was that they had to take a break every half hour. Stand up, stretch, get a drink of water, look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds (based on my eye doctor's recommendation to me).

And then instead of setting limits on screentime, we asked them to get in certain good habits every day -- get in some movement, some family time, some reading time, some meditation, some outdoor time. We didn't say "you have to do these things in order to use your device". We just said "here are our concerns, and here are some things people should do most days and that we'd like you to fit in most days". That worked for us. They self-regulate pretty well at this point. Some years I thought they were on the device too long/often, and I worried about whether we should be setting more limits, but it seems to have worked out okay.

I second the folks who've said that the kvetching about being asked to do things as a family is more of an issue than the screen time itself. We don't do consequences as such, just straight talk -- like, kid, part of being in this family is sharing in the work, sharing in the fun, and sharing in the traditions. It is really unpleasant being nagged about how long this outing will take. If this outing isn't working for you, that's okay. Let's figure out something we'll all enjoy.
posted by eafm at 5:55 PM on August 10, 2018 [3 favorites]

Oh geez -- and I *just now* saw the ages listed in your question, as I was scrolling past it again. Sorry for my totally irrelevant answer!
posted by eafm at 6:39 PM on August 10, 2018

My precious little organ banks are 12 and 15.

I think it’s important to distinguish types of screen time — productive screening (1) versus passive consumption or idle play screening (2). There’s a difference of substance between a type one activity and a type two activity. Consider that painting a digital artwork (1), or writing a computer programme (1), or editing a video (1) are quite different from scrolling through Instant Graham (2), or random YouTube surfing (2) or playing Candy Crust (2).

That being said, the dividing line isn’t always crisp.

At our house we police type 2 activities (distraction, idleness-chasers, entertainment) but we do not police type 1 activities (wielding computer-tool to make new works or achieve functions).

We give more leeway for type 1 activities that are social versus solitary. That is to say that when my boy plays Rocket League with his chums we consider it a kind of “social time” rather than “idle entertainment time.” When my girl is conversing with her friends online it is different than cruising social media aimlessly looking for stim.

TL;DR? Police the activity, not the platform. Discourage screen use before bed (because of the light of the screen itself), but otherwise the fact that the device has a screen on it is irrelevant.
posted by Construction Concern at 5:56 AM on August 11, 2018

« Older How to make Halloween another fine example of...   |   Help me remember a video game where you explore... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.