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Screen Time: Setting Rules and Limits for Kids

Screen Time: Setting Rules and Limits for Kids

After eight years, I finally bought a new car. We bought a Toyota Highlander again, making the huge leap from a 2005 to 2013 model. The car includes a fabulous entertainment package that allows me to say goodbye to using printed maps for navigation, do away with an archaic iPod hook-up that up until now would randomly cut to loud static and also provides my children with constant access to a DVD player. While my new car is luxurious, it’s opened a world of parenting decisions I was not prepared to tackle yet. Is it time to start setting screen time rules?My kids use iPads and iPods, they watch TV, play on the computer and up until now, on the occasional road trip, they could watch a movie in the car on the portable DVD player (when we took the time to hook it up). I never really felt like they watched too much TV, except sometimes on the weekends if we have nothing else planned. Up until recently, they were both in child care from 8:30-6:00 so it’s not like they had much opportunity to watch TV. Even as my daughter headed off to kindergarten, the time she could actually watch TV didn’t increase all that much. And honestly, as parents of 2 children who talk NON-STOP, screen time is often used as the tool to help my husband and I decompress and think about things like how to cook a particular meal or what’s on my must do list.

However, we now have a working DVD player in the car, within my children’s reach.  Screen time has unfortunately increased. It was around week two of new car ownership that we introduced the DVD player. We were heading up to NH for a birthday party, over an hour away. Unlike the portable DVD player, it comes equipped with wireless headphones… that actual fit both my kids and cancel out some of the noise. Those two hours in the car, I hate to admit, were wonderful. My husband and I listened to music WE choose and for the first time in a long time we had a lengthy uninterrupted conversation before 8:30 p.m.!  After we returned home, we tucked the headphones away and moved back to the normal car ride routine. Our normal car ride routine consists of constant conversation, game playing such as “I Spy”, singing songs, discussing our days (including having to come up with numerous things to ask) and often my kids fighting over the music we listen to.  Car rides can be really tough, especially at the end of the day when my daughter chooses to join me on the 25-minutes drive to pick-up her brother (which means she’s in the car for the 25-minute return trip too).

This past Sunday we opted to use the DVD again. It was the Sunday after daylight savings and the kids were all off schedule and cranky. We had another birthday party to go to but only a 30-minute drive. It was some of the best 30-minutes my husband and I had that day. My kids were completely lost in the movie, their headphones blocking out most other sound. We had great conversation and tackled so many outstanding things on our family to do list. We also enjoyed the quiet for a few minutes. We kept looking back at our kids who were smiling or laughing at the movie and with much guilt said “those headphones are fabulous!”

The other luxury in my car is I have satellite radio and between the hurricane and election, I have become mildly obsessed with news radio. So Monday night on the drive down to the center, I let my daughter watch a movie so I could hear the latest and greatest on the election and Hurricane Sandy recovery. And then it hit me. The DVD was quickly becoming the same crutch as the TV is at home. When I picked my son up that day he was so mad that his sister was able to watch the DVD on the way down. I asked him numerous questions about his day but he was not interested. He just wanted the DVD player on. They beat me down and I gave in. By Tuesday afternoon I put my foot down and said we were not watching the DVD in the car for the 15-minute trip we were making home. Oh the screams and tears, the outright drama.

As I recapped the past few days to my husband (who is traveling for work) we both came to the realization that it might be time to set some screen time limits. For both the kids and for us who had become so dependent on it. While some households completely eliminate screen use during the week, we know this model isn’t for us. We’d never be able to stick to it. But what is reasonable? What are good screen time rules to have in place? Should we allow our kids to earn screen time or should we just give out a set amount of time. What happens with siblings? For example, if the kids get a set amount of screen time and our daughter uses her time before her brother gets home from school (or on the ride to school such as the above situation), does that mean she has to go in another room when he wants to watch TV? What age do you start putting screen time rules in place? Do you wait until nightly homework starts being assigned? And how do you as a parent cope with screen time rules especially on the days you really just need some quiet? How do you track screen time, or do you? Do you have different screen time rules when one parent is home vs. both parents? When my husband travels screen time is critical.  And when my husband is home, I fear if I set the wrong rules, my husband and I will never have a conversation again or get a single thing done when the kids are awake. I really need ideas from our readers.


One comment

  1. Brenda November 9, 2012 at 2:09 am

    Our kids are age 5 and 3. We have rules regarding watching TV, like we can only watch it when it is dark out or bad weather. When it is light out and nice out, we prefer to be outside (even if we have to be all bundled up). For the car, we only play the DVD if it is dark out and the drive is more than an hour.
    Very rarely we will put a show on during the day when it is light out if we just have to get something done alone. This is quite rare, about once every 2 months or so. . .
    We’ve found that our kids are very interested in “books on tape” right now, so often during the rush to get dinner ready, we’ll play the books on tape, and they’ll “read” them (with the page turning signals), with my son helping his little sister.
    Sometimes, we’ll have the kids “earn” some TV time. Still following the other rules (dark out or bad weather), but add an incentive like they can only watch it after their rooms are cleaned up. I’ve never seen kids clean that fast! We don’t reward them every time to clean their room, but sometimes they need a little bribe to get going. . .
    We also have a very hard line on age-appropriate viewing. This does not include all rated G-movies. For example, we’ve had plenty of G-movies where the kids start calling each other names like “stupid” after seeing the show. Not really something a 3-year old understands. After they see something like that, we’ll have to talk about it, and then put it to the back of the shelf where maybe we’ll view it again when they’re older. We also have to fastforward through scary parts of movies, like the witch falling off the cliff in Snow White. . . otherwise there are lots of nightmares. . .
    Actually, my husband just reminded me that the kids haven’t watched any TV for a long time (like over a year), just pre-selected DVDs. This is to prevent them from being influenced by the ads or seeing inappropriate things in the breaks between shows. “Mom, what’s cialis?”
    Hope this helps. From what I’ve seen, we’re probably a little conservative in this realm, but this is what works for us in this stage right now.

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