Do you sometimes feel like throwing in the towel when it comes to regulating your kids’ screen time in the summers? It’s not terribly difficult to make sure they don’t overdo it during the school year, what with school, homework, and extra-curriculars. And then along comes summer with its stifling heat, longer days, and so many more hours during those days for you to figure out what to do with. At the beginning of last summer, a good friend of mine told me she was going to pilot a new screen time policy with her kids: have as much as you want, as long as you do some other things first. I balked at the idea. Unlimited screen time?? As a mom who fervently adheres to the AAP’s screen time guidelines, handing over the television reigns to my Curious-George-crazed youngsters seemed absurd. Even so, the punch card system I had been using was starting to wear on me – my oldest would use up all her punches first thing in the morning and then whine, badger, and beg for the remainder of the day for more screen time.
So I decided to try out the unlimited screen time idea and I made a daily checklist for my girls. Once they have all the items checked off their lists, they are free to watch TV until their brains melt into mush if they so choose. The thing is, they so often get “lost” in the activities they’re doing and, before we know it, the day is done. On the days where they get to the TV, they watch no more than an hour or two and the crazy-best part of it is: there is no longer whining, badgering and begging for screen time. The expectations are very clear and achievable. Of course, it helps that they don’t own any screens of their own that I have to keep track of and police. I had worried that giving them a list would obligate me to be too involved with their daily happenings – you know, micromanaging everything. The opposite! They check in with me to see what’s next on the list and then they go do it independently (but for the things they need a grown-up to help with, of course). Something very interesting happened once we got out of the habit of daily screen time: they simply don’t care about TV/screens as much. “Please can I watch a show” isn’t the first thing I hear in the morning and parking it in front of the TV doesn’t automatically come to their minds as a go-to fix for boredom. They instead remember how much fun they had playing dress up or building a city with blocks, ribbons and connectagons.
If you need a change-up for your screen time system, you might give this a try. What do you do at home that works really well for your family?