Screen time

When my younger son got the dreaded Xbox over a year ago, both boys would play and play and play some more. We soon realised they were playing far too much. So we set a timer! Result! They had an hour on the Xbox a day.

That worked. For a week or two.

But then my younger son just drifted off and picked up whatever device was available to watch YouTube videos or play games like Clash of Clans. This was harder to police. There was no timer and he would just drift from one device to the next. Ban one and he just went and picked up another. He was spending longer and longer in front of screens, usually cut off from the rest of the family in his bedroom.

Meanwhile, his brother was watching more and more films a day – he could watch three or four on a weekend, on his own in his bedroom and was sending messages on his phone or Kindle as late as 11.30pm. Homework was often done in a panic at 9.30pm on Sunday. And their sister? She was slumped in front of the TV in front of the lounge, watching the reality shows she’d recorded, over and over again.

Something had to change. For their education and learning, for their health, for their sleep and their social skills.

Screens, Phone, iPad, Xbox

We tried a ‘no screens before tea’ rule. Before tea they had to prioritise homework, music practise and caring for the guinea pigs, who were becoming increasingly forgotten, particularly in winter. That rule worked for about three days, but they soon drifted into bad habits again.

After the Easter holidays, I was determined we were going to make a change. Essentially there is one very simple rule – two hours’ screen time a day. But I know my kids will find loop-holes and ‘what ifs’ in every situation. So the rules have been spelt out VERY clearly. They’d been warned, but they still weren’t happy when they saw what the rules looked like written down:

Screen time

Screen time is good for socialising with friends and for learning, but too much can lead to lack of exercise and fresh air, over-stimulation of the brain and lack of sleep, not enough time spent on homework, bad behaviour and becoming anti-social (spending too much time away from family).
Screen time is all TV, DVDs, Xbox, iPhone, Kindle and iPad. It is up to you how you divide your time between all screens – you can spend the full two hours on one (except Xbox) or divide it between several.
Screen time will be limited to two hours per day on school days and three hours on weekends and school holidays (but will be significantly less when we are away on holiday).
Screen time is not a right – some days it will not be possible to have the full two or three hours, due to sport, days out or school commitments. Complaints about reduced screen time will lead to screen time being taken away the next day.
Additional screen time will be allowed for watching TV as a family at weekends.
No screen time before school or before tea. Before tea is for homework, music practise and guinea pig care. Everyone will help out with the guinea pigs, including getting them out of the hutch every day. If you run out of things to do before tea, read a book or go outside.
Screen time before tea will be allowed for homework – please ask Mum and show her what you are doing.
Homework is not to be done after 8.15pm (Daughter), 8.45pm (Younger son) or 9.15pm (Eldest) to allow you to unwind and get to sleep. If you have forgotten or are late with your homework, you will have to take the consequences at school. There will be no excuse letters from home.
Always ask permission before going on all screens, so that Mum/ Dad can take note of the time and keep track of how long you are spending on there.
Always let Mum/ Dad know when you take a break from screens, so that Mum/ Dad can take note of the time and keep track of how long you are spending on there.
Screens to be turned off and devices handed over at 8.15pm (Daughter), 8.45pm (Younger son) and 9.15pm (Eldest). If devices need charging, hand over chargers and they will be charged downstairs.
Breaking of any of these rules will lead to screen time being taken away the next day. Continued breaking of the rules will lead to screen time being taken away for longer and loss of pocket money.
These rules will be reviewed regularly.

What they don’t know is that I am prepared to relax the rules if they are prepared to take responsibility and police themselves. Until then, this is how it’s going to be.

What do you think? Do you have screen time rules? Do they work?

Author: Sarah Mummy

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  1. Eeeeeegh, screen time. What a topic but so important to discuss. Thanks for sharing what you do. We haven’t found our happy solution yet but I’ll certainly take some ideas from this. J

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    • Thanks very much. It’s so hard to find the right solution and things always seem to slip, but we will see what happens with this one!

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  2. I think this is brilliant and very similar to what we do – especially after tea and having no devices in bedrooms. I limit it to one hour before tea but struggle now they have phones, to police what the girls are doing. Have had to slack off on that a bit because I’m on mine all the time – wait til that gets thrown at you!

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    • Thanks very much! It’s good to know I’m doing similar to you, because I always think you’re good at this sort of thing!
      I’m kind of waiting for them to throw it at me. My defence is that it’s work (slight exaggeration most of the time) and I am actually finding myself less inclined to pick it up when they’re not allowed theirs.

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  3. Fab! I have actually copied this and adapted the children to suit ours and printed it off! I’m going to show to Hubby later. We need to reestablish rules and I’m sure it’ll slip as it always does but it’s a good routine to come back to. We are much more easy going at the weekend and during school hols but it can take over. The only thing is that my daughter is a special case as her phone actually distracts her when she’s having anxiety episodes (usually at bedtime) and so we have to play around with that a little, even though I don’t like her reliance on it for that. She’ll hate this but my son will love it, he loves rules! Do keep us in touch with how it’s going.

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    • Thanks! That’s good to know it has inspired you too, I will definitely update on how it’s going, but three days in I’m pleased so far. Understandable about your daughter – you have to do what works for her and I’m sure I would do the same in your situation. Love that your son loves rules, he sounds like my daughter! 🙂

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  4. Hey Sarah, great post which i will forward to Hub and force child to read. “Boring Mum boring”. whenever I’m in kitchen, he’s off like rat up a drain into office and on Minecraft videos until I notice he’s not in living room. Just got notification our broadband limit for month is 50% used up in FIRST WEEK APRIL!!

    Our limit for 10 yr old is one hour in term time and two in holidays. No screens after 6.30pm (music practise, homework, supper, maybe shower/story, bedtime) . My step GS is 12 and his
    Mum, my stepdaughter is MUCH more lenient.

    Yes harder and harder to monitor and screens have definite impact on sleep quality. (Apart from Twitter of course!)
    Having said that he has 2 friends over today and they have been on XBox for more than 2 hours, alot more, though booted them out onto meadow for an hour. They have 3 controllers and after hours of staring at TV I doubt they will even recognise each others faces a year from now.

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    • Eeek! That’s a lot of broadband! Your son sounds just like mine – turn your back for a second and he’s gone! If my younger son moans at me I will tell him your son only gets an hour – that sounds brilliant to me. My kids had gone too far and taking it to an hour just wasn’t viable. They go to bed pretty late too, so I don’t really mind in the sense that some kids their age would be in bed at that time, but my kids just aren’t ready for it.

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  5. I think you have come up with a great set of rules which covers everything.
    My two only have screen time after school once homework has been done….They have 2 hours a night.
    They’re both actually banned from their tablets tonight as my eldest snuck hers to her room last night. No tablets or laptops upstairs and my youngest is banned because she was an utter madam last night. lol They are both not happy at all.

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    • Thanks very much 🙂
      Sorry to hear your kids have been banned, but it’s a very effective punishment! My kids weren’t happy with these rules at first, but they seem to be adapting well already.

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  6. I know exactly how you feel. We’ve tried in the past to limit screen time but we weren’t consistent enough and it fell by the wayside. The kids aren’t too bad at the moment – they’re both outside enjoying the sun which is good although eldest has just come in to get her phone. We do have one semi successful rule in our house – Kids to be ready for bed by 8.30pm at which point they come downstairs and read until 9pm. Even then it’s sometimes a battle, which I hate given that reading is supposed to be for pleasure!

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    • Thanks very much. Consistency has always been our problem too! My husband will say vague things about ‘they shouldn’t be doing that’, but not actually deal with it. I decided writing it out was the only way to be clear.
      I like your bedtime rule! We’re rubbish at bedtimes in our house, but I’m hoping the screen rules will help the kids to go to sleep a bit earlier.

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  7. I think it’s a brilliant idea and one we’ll be implementing when z is older. At the moment his tiny age means I say “5 minutes” for his Sarah and duck episodes 🙂

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    • Brilliant! The longer you can hang onto that, the better! It’s amazing how young some kids get hooked on screens. My kids were actually relatively late starters with it all and not as badly addicted as some.

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  8. YOU

    I love this post. We only allow Bunny one hour per day and we take that away if she behaves badly. If she’s watching a film with us then she can have a bit longer.

    My mum didn’t allow me a mobile phone or a tv in my room til I was 14. I didn’t have a games console either and ipads didn’t exist. I got a computer I could play games on and watch dvds on when I was 14. I wasn’t allowed the internet in my room til i was 16. I was allowed to use the internet (dial-up haha) and FAX MACHINE in my dad’s office for one hour SOME nights from age 14 onwards.

    I think it’s important to have screen time rules, even more so in modern times.

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    • Thanks very much!
      I think it’s important that they can get longer for watching something together as a family because that’s a shared/ sociable experience. Taking screens away seem to be the best possible punishment for kids!
      I find it amazing that you had the internet and a mobile phone as a kid, because they didn’t really exist when I was a kid! I got the internet at home when I was 31 and had my first mobile phone when I was 26!

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  9. That’s brilliant, my lovely! I particularly like those 3: “Complaints about reduced screen time will lead to screen time being taken away the next day.

    Additional screen time will be allowed for watching TV as a family at weekends.

    No screen time before school or before tea. Before tea is for homework, music practise and guinea pig care. ”

    These are really clear. There is no risk of confusion. Do not follow the rules and you lose the privilege. 2 hours seems generous to me, but your kiddos are much older than mine, aren’t they?

    My sister-in-law has an app on the phone & tablets that limits usage to whatever the parents sets, and the app then allows the kids to use the tablet as a Kindle until 9 p.m., at which time the device switches off completely. How good is that? Not sure what it’s called though. x

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    • Thanks very much! I wanted to make them very clear because that’s how we’ve always slipped up in the past. If there’s any loopholes, they will find them!
      I think it’s important to enjoy TV as a family as it is more of a social thing, so I think it’s fine to have that as extra time and should be something they look forward to and value.
      My kids are 13, 11 and 9, so it’s not difficult to fit two hours in after school and before bed, even after homework! Of course they don’t think two hours is enough, but so far, so good, it’s going pretty well!
      That app sounds very interesting!

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  10. Great idea, and hope it works. I’ll definitely be planning this when N’s older, although I think I’d struggle to do it myself which is a bit hypocritical.

    When we were children my mum started a tv maximum time. We were allowed 4 hours each a week, but could watch the other’s tv hours on top. It lasted a few weeks, but it was pretty easy with school and the fact that there was only 1 tv, 4 channels and we didn’t have computers, handheld devices or phones etc.

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    • My twins are only 7 but we’re already having to monitor and set rules. During school days Monday to Thursday they’re only allowed to use their computer on math websites used by their school and can watch one documentary during the school week (such as on nature /animals /space). It’s rather strict but as they’re used to it they no longer complain. What I’ve noticed is that they then start doing arts and crafts, playing with their toys in their bedrooms or playing outdoors depending on the weather, reading books and using their imagination to make up games rather than immersing themselves in Minecraft or such like on their tablets.

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      • That sounds really good – my kids have gradually picked up bad habits over the years – it was mainly TV when they were younger and we didn’t regulate it enough, so it spiralled. Already I’ve noticed my younger son in particular finding new ways to amuse himself, which I’m really pleased about.

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    • It was so much easier when we were young, wasn’t it?
      I’m pleased my kids haven’t picked me up on my habits, although I think I’m doing better myself with them spending less time in front of screens.

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  11. Such a hot topic, Sarah, and great ideas here. I have massively clamped down on our screen time. I don’t even mind TV as much as IPads, because at least I can see what they’re watching and it’s not all about fighting (my big bugbear). My oldest is only 7 so I’ve succeeded in keeping iPad / Xbox just to weekends for one or two hours each day, as reward for homework. I fear in future with all three clamouring for smartphones etc I am going to be in the minefield you’re currently standing in! Your plan sounds like a good one – good luck with it! x

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    • Thanks very much. So far, so good here! Surprisingly I only have one putting up much resistance. Like you, I find the TV less of a problem tun the iPad and Xbox, but even that can eventually turn my daughter into a zombie!

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  12. Haha I have to be different and say that sounds like a lot of work to me.
    Mine aren’t allowed on in the week and before 11am on weekends/holidays. They don’t just stay on them though. And I let them on earlier if we are going on long journeys early. I don’t think it’s done them any harm tbh.

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    • It sounds like you’ve got really good rules that work for you. I only had to make ours so specific as nothing else worked!

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  13. We are screen down for dinner , and when we’re watching most programs I see the difference in everyone’s moods

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    • That’s good. It amazes me how many families seem to eat with everyone having their own iPad propped up in front of them! I would never dream of doing that.

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  14. Thanks! Definitely in moderation it’s fine. An hour sounds great to me, but my kids had slipped too far, so taking it back to two hours seemed manageable. Also, they go to bed fairly late, so it’s not like they have to squeeze their time in before 7pm! I think watching TV as a family is a great experience and Britain’s Got Talent is one of our favourite shows for that.

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  15. We have tried so many different systems with screens that I get worn out with it all; no screens in the week, no screens at the weekend but over the last year or so, we say that they can only have an hour to one and a half hours and that seems to work. You can’t outlaw them all together, even though I would like to at times, but I think you are right to put the rules in writing. I have found the limit works but I do then have to physically hide all of the devices to stop them sneaking on

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