How to successfully manage a preteen's screen time?
June 12, 2019 10:57 AM   Subscribe

Here comes summer and I don't want my kid to use his computer or tablet all the time and just as importantly - I don't want to talk and negotiate each day about it. What works in your family and how much time feels reasonable in your family?

My kid is 11 and loves video games and watching videos about them. He likes analyzing game play and learning about each level and aspect and recipe and boss. (He plays no mature games and all of his youtube watching [I monitor] is very G rated - not an issue here. )
He has a few friends he likes to hang out with but none in the neighborhood and those friends will be tied up for a good portion of the summer.
I will keep him busy with a one week camp and a couple one week vacations. He'll have an athletic lesson and music lesson once a week and have to practice piano. He loves to read but I have to remind him he does which mixed reactions, maybe he'll read, maybe not.
I'll do what I can to make sure he can get together as much as possible with friends and will drag him around maybe once a week to a pond or an attraction. But that leaves a whole lot of time.

I am going to make the rules when school is out Friday and looking for ideas for what other families do.

Reward for work? Play or watch only between certain hours? Certain days? It is summer and he worked really hard this year with some fairly strict restrictions so I'd like to make it feel a little more relaxed - but it's difficult when it's his favorite thing.

Please let me know what is working in your house with your 4-7 graders!
posted by beccaj to Computers & Internet (15 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
for us it's simplest to just do no screen time at all before a certain time [in our case, returning from swim practice.] My kid has other projects they're working on and the early hours of the day are dedicated to them. After practice, she can veg out however she wants including with screens.
posted by fingersandtoes at 11:06 AM on June 12 [3 favorites]

If they are home (weekend or summer), our rule is until 10am. No screens between 10am and 5pm. That includes the TV. We do break the rules occasionally when its raining, or we are just all beat and need some downtime.

We do allow Spotify to be on the house speaker, so they can use their tablet to control that, but they lose the next day if they are caught doing other things. Or if they bookmarked a project or recipe. They've tried to get round the rules by downloading ebooks from the library, so I've said No to ebooks on their tablet, and allow them to use an old Kobo instead.

Those memes that are "do your chores then you get the wifi code" didn't work in our house. We generally found it a pain to change the password everyday. OR the chores wouldn't' get done properly and we'd have to nag. So it was better to put in the 10am rule, there's no nagging involved, and it was easy.

My kids are 11 and 13.
posted by Ftsqg at 11:09 AM on June 12 [2 favorites]

When my kids were young I used a program called Watchdog. I allowed me to set up a login on the computer and set the time of day and how long that user could be online. unfortunately the software is no longer available. I also used OpenDNS to limit the sites that were available to them. I currently have a Netgear NightHawk router which has parental controls but have not used them as the kids are now grown.
posted by tman99 at 11:10 AM on June 12

Not a parent, but I think his age is a good age to talk to him about what he thinks is appropriate. Like 'hey son, you worked really hard this year and I'm really proud of you. All that hard work has shown me that you are responsible and showing maturity. So I wanted to talk to you about what you think would be appropriate screen time this summer. You deserve to relax and enjoy yourself after all your hard work, but it's still important for you to be out and about and run around and go to your activities and read this summer, so let's talk about what would work best for all of us. I was thinking about maybe only having screen time to be during set hours, or a fixed total amount during the day, something like that. Do you have any ideas?' And maybe go from there. I feel like kids are more likely to follow rules that they themselves have negotiated.
posted by greta simone at 11:10 AM on June 12 [20 favorites]

Our plan for this summer for our kids (9 and 12) is to just turn off the internet between 9 and 4 every day. We're just going to use the wifi router settings to turn it off and on automatically to nip any chance of daily debate in the bud.
posted by fimbulvetr at 12:11 PM on June 12 [1 favorite]

One thing to consider if you do a "no screens before 5pm" or other similar rule, is to not allow screens too close to bedtime, either, because of the effects the blue light can have on sleep.
posted by hasna at 2:06 PM on June 12 [2 favorites]

Reading this with interest because I'm in the same situation. We only have about four unplanned weeks this summer, but they will be all video games all day if I don't make a plan.

The place I get pushback is around what to do if he's not allowed to do those things, so my plan revolves around coming up with fun activities. He's not an athletic kid--we'll take walks and play outside, but I need mostly inside and interesting things. It's hard to match the payoff of video games; I'm going to encourage him to do a couple of projects but I'm not sure yet what. Drawing and puzzles, I hope.

Interested to hear other answers!
posted by gideonfrog at 2:53 PM on June 12

We use a screen use limiting app ‘screentime’ and give them 30 minutes a day with certain well-defined exceptions.
posted by bq at 3:15 PM on June 12

I have a 12 yr old and a 16 yr old and I don't restrict it at all. Both of my kids are in the highest level of advanced classes at school, have friends, do activities, and are in good physical shape.

I don't actually think video games and videos about video games are a waste of time. You say "He likes analyzing game play and learning about each level and aspect and recipe and boss" which actually sounds pretty engaged to me.

I really don't like the phrase "screen time" because it lumps together a lot of things that I think are pretty different. Watching a mindless sitcom on TV doesn't take a huge level of engagement. Watching a video about a cool math puzzle is a whole different thing. One of my kids likes puzzles, the other one has taught himself a bunch of magic tricks and art techniques on you tube. Does looking at a kindle count as "screen time"? Does metafilter?

Instead of restricting, I try to encourage other activities that they will choose in addition to games and videos. You already sound like you have a ton of stuff planned, so I think that's covered.

You could also learn more about what he's doing. If you're not a gamer this might seem boring as hell but I think you will be amazed at the conversations you can have. Both or my sons have had long, involved conversations with me about toxic masculinity directly because of us talking about their online world. They would never have done that otherwise. Never.

Also my older son is involved in doing tournaments now and he's starting to plan on running some himself. It's actually pretty good experience and something that we will be able to do together.
posted by selfmedicating at 3:28 PM on June 12 [10 favorites]

Seconding selfmedicating. As a younger MeFite, I actually had the experience of growing up with (mostly failed, because kids are smart) attempts at restricted screen time. All it did was make me resentful and sneaky, because it felt like my parents didn't see value in the things I enjoyed. This included creative writing, talking to friends, drawing, reading articles, solving puzzles, etc. All of these things were most easily and abundantly accessible via a screen, so having that cut off at arbitrary times or only being able to do that a certain amount each day was depressing. Sure, I could read or play outside or whatever, but I had ideas and plans for stories I wanted to write, conversations I wanted to have, things I wanted to research, drawings I wanted to do, things I wanted to build in my games, etc. Screen restriction felt extremely stifling to my identity, friendships, and creativity.

I generally see parents restricting screen time for two reasons: concerns about the physical health risks, or thinking what their kid is doing isn't [social/intellectual/productive/insert value here] enough. The concerns about physical health are somewhat valid, but I think it's much better to model and encourage good screen habits than arbitrary restriction times (making sure you've gotten xyz done first, taking breaks to get up and stretch and get snacks/water/a little exercise, being mindful to try and avoid screens being the 'default' when you're bored, scheduling time to do other things you enjoy as well, turning it off an hour before bed, etc). Even if you decide to go with restrictions because it's easier, you need to at least articulate to your kid why you're concerned and how the restrictions are going to help.

If your concern is what he's doing isn't [insert value here] enough (different from being worried about things that are actively harmful) you need to think about whether you're willing to tell your kid that you don't think what he's doing is valuable and that he needs to be doing something else that you find more valuable. If you have a good relationship with your kid, you might be able to have an honest and respectful conversation about balance, but telling a kid they should get off their game to go read is going to give the message of "what you value and enjoy is inferior to what I think is valuable." I'm saying this as a kid who loved reading. But I also loved video games, and writing, and drawing, and reading articles online, etc. etc. etc. And because that was restricted, any time my parents weren't home, any time I could sneak in extra online time, I would. Because reading would always be there, but I had to battle to get time to do the other things I enjoyed. Which, ironically, ended up meaning I read less and less.

I'll caveat this by saying I don't have kids. But I still remember what it was like to be one, and how I responded to these sorts of restrictions. I don't think they helped me at all, for the reasons I outlined above. Once I got out on my own, I was pretty much glued to a screen for years because I finally had the freedom to do the things I enjoyed whenever I wanted, and I hadn't learned anything about balancing that with other things I enjoyed that didn't involve a screen. I don't know the best way to teach a kid the habits I had to learn on my own, but arbitrary restrictions didn't do it for me.
posted by brook horse at 5:20 PM on June 12 [13 favorites]

If we don’t restrict screen time my kids will spend every waking hour on bloody youtube watching memes. I know we aren’t the only parents with small children struggling with this, so lecturing people about having meaningful conversations and respecting their kids as if parents don’t do that is just insulting. We do that, but you know, a 9 year old only has so much self control. We turn the internet off, and they go do stuff. They go to the park and play with friends, build stuff, read, play LEGO, go to the corner store, play basketball, bike, etc. We don’t have to make them do those things, they just go do them, but the only thing that gets them off their butts is shutting off the damn internet. We don’t care if they are playing video games with friends. The point is not “no screens”, the point is not spending an entire summer doing nothing but slack-jawed, mindless, zombie like staring at endless videos, whether teevee or YouTube. They know the rules, and don’t even argue about it. They also know they get lots of screen time outside the blackout hours, and if they show up with a bunch of friends and want to play video games during the blackout hours that is okay. Before 9 in the morning? Go crazy! After 4pm? Sure, watch whatever you want!
posted by fimbulvetr at 9:45 PM on June 12 [5 favorites]

I just have to add that we are free-range parents, as are most of the parents in our neighbourhood. Kids just wander off around the neighbourhood doing whatever. But we all agree on the mid-day internet blackout.
posted by fimbulvetr at 9:49 PM on June 12

I have the same problem but can't offer any definitive solutions. One thing that eased up a bit on the endless arguing is declaring all of Wednesday and Sunday after breakfast for screen-free time, though. Then there is no hope, and they have actually started planning doing other stuff instead of hanging around the house waiting for the screen time to come around.
posted by Harald74 at 3:20 AM on June 13 [1 favorite]

Something that has worked for me is to create a guest network; my son knows the password to that and not to the main network. So the tv and netflix work all the time, but I can turn off internet access til a designated time or until he finishes his chores, etc. The netgear router software lets me pick a time length for the guest network but it's very unreliable, but the off switch works perfectly :D
posted by lemniskate at 12:42 AM on June 15

The kids in my house get a certain number of "tokens" for screen time each week. Each token is good for 20 minutes of screen time. They reset on Saturdays. Kids are asked to prioritize obligations like homework, thank you notes (usually done in batches of 2-3, so it's not an overwhelming task), instrument practice, household contributions like dinner cleanup, etc. Outside of that, kids have a lot of freedom to choose when to spend their tokens (assuming time allows -- they can't push bedtime to accommodate a token, for instance), and when they're gone, they're gone. Watching a sibling play a game counts as screen time. Sharing screen time with an adult doesn't usually count (e.g., the family watching a video or movie). Kids are allowed to buy, borrow, or trade tokens, up to half the weekly quantity.

This seems to work great, and it leaves some wiggle room for, for instance, more tokens during holiday weeks. It means the parents mostly don't have to be involved in the decision making or enforcing, and the kids seem to be learning to self regulate.
posted by spindrifter at 12:14 PM on June 17

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