Some parents choose to set a specific daily duration and time when kids are allowed to play on their iPad or watch a show. That’s what works in Jaclyn Thornton’s* home in Winnipeg. Her four-year-old son, Josh, is allowed to watch for 30 minutes while Thornton showers and gets ready in the morning, and then for another 60 minutes while she’s prepping dinner.
2. Select binge days
Consider choosing a day or a few days of the week on which TV or other technology is allowed. For Kelly Palmer’s three kids in Toronto, TV days are Tuesday, Thursday and sometimes Saturday. Her kids, ages seven, four and three, are allowed to choose some Netflix shows to watch on those days, but at any other time, they know not to even ask. That said, Palmer will occasionally break the rule, but on those days, she gets to choose the content they watch—which means Planet Earth documentaries. “They start out hating it, but they always end up loving it,” says Palmer.
Many families choose to have no screen time at all during the week, as it interferes with homework and bedtime, and allow it more liberally (or without any limitations) on weekends. Regardless of which days you choose, Matthew Johnson, director of education for MediaSmarts, a Canadian non-profit focused on media and digital literacy, likes the idea of only allowing screens at certain times. “What makes this beneficial is that kids go into adolescence without the expectation that there are going to be screens every single day.”
3. Make them justify their use
Whenever your kid asks to jump on to a piece of technology, ask “why?” suggests Johnson. “One of the most important things we can do as parents is to ensure that when kids are using screens, they’re using them for a reason—that they’re not just turning them on out of habit.” It’s not that you’ll definitely say no if their reason is they simply want to be entertained. But asking why encourages kids to think of other things they can do on the device—like making a movie or playing an active video game—that might make you more inclined to say yes. This strategy can also open up a conversation about why we use screens, and it gives you an opportunity to suggest a different activity if your kid is simply bored.
4. Download a tracking app
There are many screen-time tracking and parental-control apps that will monitor which apps are being used in the household, for how long and by whom. Schafer suggests simply starting by collecting data on all users, including parents. “Be curious and investigative,” she says. “Ask yourself, Is this a good life? Is this balanced? ”
Once you’ve gathered the information, decide if you might want to use the app to set limits on what can be accessed and for how long. Jonathan Lebi and his wife use the app Qustodio to keep track of how much time their four kids, ranging from age seven to 14, are using their devices, whether it’s in line with the family’s predetermined screen-time rules, and whether they need help managing and regulating screen time. For example, their older kids are allowed 15 minutes in both the morning and evening on their devices for social media or entertainment, so when Qustodio showed their son spending 70 minutes on Snapchat, it was a good opportunity to talk about whether this was a good way to be spending his time. The Lebis choose not to use the app to control the amount of time spent on different screen activities, but you can use apps to stop allowing access after a set period.