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Setting limits around screen time is something that my husband and I are learning to navigate as our boys get older. Our two oldest, ages 7 and 5, are eager to interact with any screen available to them whenever they can get it. They don’t have any devices of their own yet and they need our permission in order to play on the computer or iPad so they ask at all hours of the day. Most of the time, this can be very frustrating….and annoying….for my husband and I.
When school started again this fall my husband and I faced another dilemma. The boys were not cleaning up after themselves on a daily (and often hourly!) basis. This resulted in us nagging them to pick up their stuff, or we ended up putting things away ourselves. We were not happy with either of these “solutions”!
We felt that all of our interactions with the boys focused around negotiating screen time or nagging about chores. Not fun for any of us.
I had heard about the idea of a family meeting, so we decided to try it, to see if, together, we could come up with some solutions. We told the boys that Friday after supper, we were going to eat some ice cream and talk. Then, the four of us sat down around the dinner table. My husband and I put together a rough draft of what our expectations were (for chores, cleaning up and screen time) and our goal was to work together to make a concrete plan.
Our first topic was the cleaning up after themselves issue. The past number of months their room would get messy enough that we wouldn’t be able to see the floor. Another one was putting their things away after they got home from school. These chores were non-negotiable, as far as my husband and I were concerned, so these were put on the list at the beginning. We then gave them a list of chores that we feel are age appropriate and they each got to pick the ones they wanted to do. We talked about how being part of a family meant that we all had to share in the work of keeping the house tidy.
Our second topic was the screen time issue. We wanted our boys to feel that they could have some control over the amount of screen time they are able to have, all within a bigger limit that we set. We also wanted them to know that screen time is only one of the many wonderful activities we have to do in our home. We enjoy all kinds of things together—playing, eating, reading, talking, visiting, going to church, or just relaxing together on the couch.
Here’s what our discussion produced:
We are just over a month into this system and so far it’s been a success! If they don’t do their chores for allowance, they know they won’t get paid. They know that the amount of screen time they earn is in their control.
As soon as the boys get into the house after school I make a point of connecting with them. I watch them run off the bus and into the house and greet them with hugs and big smiles. I ask them how their day went (I can tell by their body language if something didn’t go right) as they unpack their bags. My husband and I want them to know that spending time together is our first choice, our favourite “go to” activity. Then they’re off to start working away on their lists. The time between 4 and 5pm is a little busy in our house because parents come to pick up the children I care for during the day, so the boys get their allotted 30 minutes of screen time during this hour. They know how to start the timer on the microwave and they switch off as soon as the timer is up. Sometimes they need a few reminders to get off, especially if the house is still a little busy. They know they get more time again the next day so logging off games and turning screens off hasn’t been too big of a challenge (yet…).
We feel that this method is teaching them some responsibility for their own things, their time, and simply being part of a family that works together. Our oldest just made his first purchase yesterday: a Lego advent calendar from Costco that he proudly saved for. We’re proud, too!
Eventually our system will need some tweaking and adjustments as the boys get older. They’ll need screen time for homework, and we know that our youngest will soon want to do more than watch his big brothers play. When that happens, we will sit down again, eat some ice cream and talk about the changes that need to be made. When that meeting comes, they’ll be able to have a lot more input into what they feel is and isn’t fair and what they think will work.
Our meeting came to a close. They hurried off start on their chores: clear the table of our dessert dishes and load them into the dishwasher. We didn’t have to ask them twice.
Melodie Stryker is the proud mother of three boys. She is an Experienced Parent with Parenting Now and looks forward to connecting with website visitors via the Let’s Talk Parenting chat button. Ask her about screen time, chores—or any other topic that has to do with raising boys! She may not know all the answers, but she would love the conversation.
The Canadian Paediatric Society recently posted a position statement regarding screen time and young children, titled, Screen time and young children: Promoting health and development in a digital world (November 2017). While their guidelines are specific to children under the age of 5, their strategies could be useful for any aged child or teen.
They recommend the following strategies for parents and caregivers:
Minimize screen time:
Mitigate (reduce) the risks associated with screen time:
As a family, be mindful about the use of screen time:
As a parent or caregiver, model healthy screen use:
The full position statement is available here…