How Do You Limit Kids’ Screen Time?

boy staring at computer screen

My new post Screen Time is up at ForeverParenting.  If anyone has kids that stare at screens too often, hop on over and give me some advice.  🙂  I’m needing it.

One of the disadvantages of home schooling is, well, that they’re home all the time and the Siren Song of the Screen is strong. If I’m not especially vigilant, the younger boys can play computer games for a couple of hours while I’m schooling the older boys.

I’ve broken them of the habit of turning on the television when they wake up, so most mornings a visitor to my house would hear wild romping and play for a good hour. Which pleases me no end, except for the danger they pose to my poor house. In fact, they usually have so much fun that it’s difficult to get them to stop for breakfast.

That computer though. It’s a tough one to avoid. They’re so nice and quiet when they’re in front of that screen. The older boys are able to read and calculate without distraction. If I limit the game time, then they’re loudly marching back and forth being distracting. Loudly. Did I mention they’re loud?

After the older boys’ instruction time is done I work with the younger ones. We read stories and do some short activities. By then the older boys have finished their work and want to play on the computer.

Sometime after that, the fun begins. “MooooOOOOOoooommmmmmm! He’s played on the computer all day and I haven’t had a turn!!” “Mommmmm! Is it my turn yet???” or (one of my real favorites) I announce that it’s time to be done on the computer and I hear “But I’ve only played for TEN MINUTES” when it’s really been forty-five. And of course, if your brother is playing on the computer and you’re just sitting in the next chair kibbitzing, well, that doesn’t count as screen time, right? Ha.

I was reading a report on children and video games last night and discovered that a ‘super user’ is a child in front of a screen 6 or more hours a week. Sheesh. Give a kid two half-hour turns per day and you are apparently creating a monster. Add in all the time they spend watching each other and I’m in trouble. On top of that, they see me at the computer for a great number of hours during the day. I’m actively reading and writing, not playing video games, but they don’t see that. It just looks like Mom at the computer.

I’m thinking about buying one of those programs that will limit computer time. Seems like an unemotional program shutting them down-and refusing to argue the point-would be easier on everyone.

I try my best to be helpful and supportive in monitoring turns and time, but I can’t always catch who is on what turn, especially when they have random fits of generosity and will let someone else play out the turn on the timer. That of course sets the stage for a new fit when the timer does chime, because someone got extra time and as the mother of twins I am morally obligated to be sure that everything in their lives is measured and meted out with exact equality and fairness. According to their whimsical definition, of course.

It’s enough to make a person beat her head on the wall. Of course, then we’re back to my poor house and all the blows the walls have already taken, so I’m trying to abstain from that to prevent further damage.

So, I’m thinking that some kind of external limitation program might be helpful. Anyone use one? What advantages and disadvantages are there? Any other suggestions for solving the problem?

Earnest Parenting: help for parents with screen-addicted kids.

The editor-in-chief of Earnest Parenting, Amy is the mother of two sets of twin boys. Yes, they drive her crazy, but they also make her laugh occasionally. Amy enjoys writing, quilting, reading, and working on her burgeoning cyber empire.

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  • Bernard November 24, 2007, 2:34 pm

    This is a major battle with my family. My wife is a TV-A-HOLIC and my son loves Dora, Jack’s Big Music Show, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Blues Clues and Diego. If you let him, he will ask and watch all day long. To limit this, we say one show when he wakes up before school (he eats breakfast and watches a Micky Mouse episode) and one show after school (Dora or Diego). The rest of the time is free play, play with mommy and daddy or a friend. It is hard, it forces us as parents to parent more instead of letting the TV babysit for us…so we can get stuff done like cleaning, cooking etc.

    Good luck…it is a big time battle!

    Reply
  • Amy November 25, 2007, 2:53 pm

    Ooooh, ouch! 🙂 The point about being the parent and not letting the TV babysit really hits home.

    There’s quite a spectrum of views regarding whether to have television in the home, and if you do how much to let kids watch. I lean more towards having one in the home than not; I’d rather teach my boys some discernment myself than leave them to their own devices when they move out. It’s worked with the older ones to some extent. The wanted to watch the Nickelodeon Kids Choice Awards, but turned it off themselves after watching the hosts’ vulgar behavior for about 5 minutes. I was pretty thrilled that they were so unimpressed with belching adults.

    I haven’t finalized a strategy yet, but I’m thinking that time limits, targeted software choices, and an increase in family activity time are all going to be parts of it.

    Thanks for the great comment!

    Reply
  • Michelle (beartwinsmom) November 28, 2007, 7:55 am

    My boys know that they have an hour and a half after school that they watch PBS Kids- that’s Arthur, Maya and Miguel, and Fetch (on Fridays, Maya and Miguel is replaced with Word Girl). Then after Fetch, the boys automatically turn the TV off.

    Now, I need a plan for the weekends. (sigh).

    Good post, Amy!!! That evil TV/computer screen does do more harm than good sometimes (in battles).

    ~Michelle
    beartwinsmom.wordpress.com

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  • Suburban Dad July 16, 2009, 4:11 pm

    Being a parent, I am also not immune to this daily challenge. The shows that Michelle mentions in her comment are regular staples around my house as well.

    One thing that has helped me with this battle over too much screen time is to put my kids (ages 6, 5, and 3) in charge of managing their daily allocation of screen time. You can read about the details for how to limit daily screen time on my blog. Please, if you have any other tips and/or tricks that have worked well for you, please let me know.
    .-= Suburban Dad´s last blog ..How to limit screen time during the summer – A parenting tip =-.

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