Screen time is such a tricky topic these days. We have all of the research-backed recommendations from our pediatricians, schools, and other authority figures. We have our own beliefs and ideas (like my husbands – “I watched tv every waking minute growing up and I turned out okay, so what’s the big deal?”) And then we have our children’s desires.
The Battle Over Screen Time Limits
Personally, I really want my children to be well rounded. I want them to spend time playing outside, playing with their friends, and spend time reading. I also want them to be tech savvy. Over the years I have gone through different phases and ideas on how to deal with screen time.
I got really lucky with my oldest son in that he enjoys playing video games, but he gets bored with screen time pretty quickly. Because of this, he is really great at self-regulating himself. My youngest son is a different story. The good news is that he will probably grow up to be a programmer, a video game designer, or something similar. The bad news is that it is a constant struggle to get him to turn off his device and go play outside, or go do his chores, or go to bed… You get the picture.
Recently we got to a place where I found that I was swinging between allowing them to have unlimited device time, and then feeling frustrated with the amount of time they were spending on their devices and reigning things in with strict limits. This pattern left us all constantly upset at each other.
I was exhausted trying to regulate their screen time. I felt overwhelmed with mom guilt when I didn’t regulate the time. And I was just sick and tired of the constant battle!
A Plan for Screen Time Rules
I finally decided enough was enough. My plan of trying to hold all of the responsibility of regulating their screen time was just too hard. And to be honest, I just didn’t feel like I was succeeding. I decided it was time for a family meeting.
I went to my husband who is a Senior Manager and used to finding compromises despite different desires and opinions. He had a very interesting system for devising a plan and I think it worked really well. Here is how we came up with our new screen time rules (that are actually working!!!)
Use a Family Meeting to Discuss Screen Time Rules
Have a family meeting. Everyone’s opinions and ideas should be heard. (His explanation was that people are more willing to “buy-in” to new ideas when they have been part of the discussion and planning.)
Set Ground Rules for Your Family Meeting
Start with some ground rules:
- Let everyone know that we are going to be working together as a family/team to solve a problem.
- We all agree that there are no bad ideas – anyone can say anything, no matter how out-of-the-box or silly of an idea it seems.
- We won’t talk bad about anyone’s ideas or thoughts.
- We will all get a chance to share our thoughts and feelings.
- We may not be able to solve everything in one sitting but we will continue working on the issue together as a team.
If your kids struggle with being able to listen to one another without arguing, speaking over each other, and getting frustrated, then you may need to work on some listening skills. The better your kids are at knowing how to listen, the more successful this family meeting approach will be.
I have a whole course on Listening Skills for Kids called The Be Heard Method. You can learn more here.
Define the Problem
State the problem. Discuss the issues around the problem. Allow others to weigh in on their view of the problem. (Expect that you will have someone who doesn’t agree that this issue is a problem – that is okay, it is all part of the process.)
Discuss Possible Solutions. This is the brainstorming time. Encourage everyone to participate. If you have one member of the family who is particularly quiet or who tends to dominate conversations, play referee to make sure everyone gets time and space to share their thoughts.
Narrow Down Your Solutions
Narrow Down the Options. At this point you will have a lot of different ideas. Kindly, narrow down some of the options. Allow everyone to participate in this stage. As the parent, you don’t want to be seen as taking over the process or else your “team” will stop feeling like they are part of the solution and start checking out. It may work well to go around and let each person take one idea off the table.
Choose a Temporary Plan
Refine ideas as needed and come to a temporary solution. The idea of a trial period was very helpful here. We all had very different ideas of what the best solution would be so in the end, we agreed to try one solution for 1 week and then meet again to re-asses. If you are stuck between a couple ideas, it could also work to agree to try each solution for a time period and then meet to evaluate how each one went.
Working as a Team to Set Screen Time Rules
This concept of working together as a team is so helpful. It changes the relationship from one where you are the “bad guy” enforcing “rules”. To a relationship where you are all working together as a team, towards a common goal.
If you would like additional resources to help you run a family meeting using this method, check out the Family Meeting Kit. It will give you some structure to add to the process.
No More Fighting Over Screen Time
There have been times that my kids have felt frustrated with not having their devices at times that we all agreed would be no device times. They don’t get mad at me anymore about these times though. Instead, they look to me to help them come up with a solution to their frustration. Win-Win!