We used to take the approach that once the kids get their homeschool and chores done, they could do what they want with their free time. For a million reasons, that wasn’t working, so recently we had to tweak our policy on that a little and institute screen time limits. Before you tell me how scary that sounds, let me tell you that we all had a rough two days, as they had to redirect their free time focus from TV, tablets and video games (and I had to receive the grievances). But now we’re all better off.
Here’s how our day typically goes. When Mister leaves for work, we all go to the table and get our homeschool day situated. We do not break for summer, so this has been our weekday routine for years. That is, until we were all down with flu. Somehow, I got hit the hardest and I was sick longer than anyone else, so I relied heavily on screens when I needed to recover. (Thank goodness we go all summer!)
Once we recovered, we had a heck of a time getting back to our school flow. Learning time and chores started to be treated as an interruption to their day, and they reached for the remote or tablet as their default activity. Although we got back to our school time routine, the screen habit had taken root and there were fireworks every time I asked them to do something else.
Additionally, I saw subtle but building changes in their demeanor. My previously chill kids started to launch into full-throttle emotion at the teeniest issues, and we all took turns butting heads all day. It was not a happy time.
So, I saw three main problems in our house after our two weeks under the weather…
1. Reaching for screens to the exclusion of all else
2. A distorted sense of how daily responsibilities should be treated
3. Reduced emotional control
I figured #1 and #2 could be addressed with screen time limits. Another homeschool mom friend said she had to limit screen time to Friday through Sunday so that screen time would be completely off the table for those days. If it’s not an option, they will neither reach for it nor ask for it. Then, they would be forced to read, draw, play legos, pretend, kick the soccer ball…anything but sit there and vegetate in front of the TV or tablet. I borrowed her plan.
Imposing screen time limits also helped me start learning time and chores without much protest. I’m not saying the grumbles are gone–that’s just not realistic. But now it’s once again an assumed part of our day instead of an interruption to their Mario board or episode of Jessie.
As for emotional control, my chill kiddos have returned! I cannot say for sure whether or not their tantrums had anything to do with screen time, but I imagine the problem came from a combination of me nagging them to get through their to-do lists, from the overstimulation effects that electronics have on our neurons, and from the general sense that no matter what they were doing, they would rather be doing something else. The freakouts still happen, but the part of the brain that moderates all of that seems to have come out of its slumber.
Screen Time Limits – How We Do It
So, here’s what we’ve been doing for two weeks now, with more success than I could ever have imagined.
No screens before breakfast, ever. Mister and I recognized a year or two ago how much impact morning screen time has on our kids’ behavior.
No screens Sunday through Thursday. If it’s not an option, they don’t ask, I don’t have to say no, and there’s no negotiation and protest. It keeps things simple. We make exceptions for doctor’s waiting rooms and long car trips, because come on. Sanity.
Friday through Sunday screen time is earned throughout the week. We cannot do limitless, wild west style free time anymore, lest we end up re-training and pulling our hair out every Monday again. When school and chores go well, they can earn up to two hours per weekend day. When they do not go well, time goes down.
It may sound strict, but my kids are so much happier when they know what’s expected of them. Not to mention, as a homeschool family, we’re together a lot. Clearly defined expectations keep everything running much more smoothly.