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A few summers ago, my husband and I decided to have a screen-free summer. We liked it so much that we kept a new ‘limited screen time’ routine.

By screens, I mean phones, tablets, laptops, gaming systems, etc.  We still watch shows & movies (and play games) TOGETHER in the living room, but they are not off playing a game on their computers alone. One child isn’t sitting somewhere alone, watching their phone, while the rest of us are talking. Instead, we are enjoying family time.

They are playing, talking, interacting, and just being kids. 

Do our kids use Electronics?

Yes & No.

  • We do watch shows/movies as a family.  While we might not have a smart home,  we do have a smart TV & we use it to watch movies, shows, even YouTube together as a family.   We have one set up in our living room & another one in the master bedroom.
  • They don’t play video games.
  • They don’t use handheld electronics at home when they are bored- they have to find something else to do.   My only exception is when they are using it for a portable audio device & they want to listen to music.  🙂
  • They do take their phone or gizmo’s to friends houses so I can track them and they can contact me if they need me.
  • They use their handheld electronics in the car if we are going on a long road trip.   If we have a long car trip planned, I allow “car electronics” – they can play it for the entire 6-hour drive if they want to.  I don’t worry at all, because I know that when they aren’t in the car on this long trip, they aren’t spending hours a day looking at screens.  They aren’t using a mobile device or wearable technology- they are playing!

How do you get started?

Navigating technology is particularly difficult for families with kids. Some parents are completely overwhelmed, others are feeling like they are starting to get a handle on it, but all of them wouldn’t mind a little help from time to time managing the technology in their homes.

I know that not everyone is ready to take the plunge as we did, so I want to give you some stepping-stones to cut back on screentime so that kids are spending less time in front of a screen and more time being kids.

how to cut back on screen time

1- Have a Conversation with Your Kids

When we first wanted to start cutting back on screentime for our kids, we began by talking to our kids.  I talked about how the time you spend in front of a screen, on cell phones, on social media, and watching movies & TV is impacting them.  I showed them statistics related to screentime.  I read them the recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics and we talked about how we can limit screen time.  We had a long conversation about why I wanted to cut back.  It was important that they understand the “why” behind this change.

2- Download the Family Link App

An open laptop computer sitting on top of a counter

This a tool that helps parents track their children’s location, while also allowing them to manage the kinds of content their kids see.   It also helps you to manage the amount of time kids are spending on their devices.   Plus, it gives families a jumping-off point to have a conversation around what a healthy relationship with technology looks like for their family.

No matter how old your children or teenagers are, you need to be involved.  The Family Link app from Google lets you set digital ground rules to help guide our children as they learn, play, and explore online.

3- Manage the Content that our children are seeing: 

  • Even when our kids have a limited amount of time on screens, like ours currently do, I still worry about what they see.   I don’t give our kids passwords because I want to know exactly what is happening.  The Family Link App thinks like me. 😉  LOL!  It allows parents to remotely approve or decline apps that the kids want to download from the Google Play Store.   It will also let you approve purchases that your kids want to make while in their favorite apps.
  • It also allows you to hide apps on the device at any time… so you can say “Today you can only play educational games” and it will allow you to hide any non-educational apps.    Or- you can hide the apps until chores are done.  😉
  • Don’t let them see inappropriate things: Family Link lets you restrict what content they see in the Play Store (filtered by maturity rating) and it allows you to block sites, apply filters, etc… to stop your child from seeing mature content.

4- Manage the amount of time kids spend on their device:

  • Are kids spending too much time on their device day after day? Family Link allows you to set a daily limit for each day of the week, so once that time is up, the device is locked and they can only make calls if they need to.  
  • Set a bedtime.  Family Link lets you set a device bedtime, so when it’s time to get some sleep, they aren’t distracted by their device.   (Tip: We keep all electronics so if our kids want to use them, they have to get them from us.   Even before we took away electronics as part of a daily thing, we had them turn in electronics every night at a certain time.) 
  • Need a complete break? Lock their device. Family Link lets you remotely lock your kid’s device anytime, and if you have a Google Home, you can even make Google do it — just say “Hey Google, lock Robin’s device.”

  

5- Be Respectful

I know that we are not our children’s friends.  I also understand that as parents, we want our children to do what is asked of them.  However, I also respect them, as people.  This means that I want to show them that they are important and that what they say is important.  I would give everyone else these simple courtesies and I give them to my children, too.

When it comes to screentime and cutting back or turning them off, start with respect.

Imagine that you are cozy on the sofa, watching your favorite movie or sport on TV (think of that movie in your mind).  You are right at the best part of the movie or game, where it is all about to wrap up and come to that ending that you’ve been waiting for (think of that scene in your mind).

Now picture your spouse or your kids yelling at you from the kitchen “Go put your shoes away.  You left them out.” or “We are going to the store.  Let’s go.”
Or worse- picture someone walking over to turn off the TV without warning– just hitting the POWER button and shutting it down.

When we do this to our kids, it gives them the same feeling that we would have.   No matter what we are doing: watching a show, reading a book, working on something… we all want to be given respect.

Simply give them a warning “I need you to wrap up what you are doing, so we can _____”.  It cuts back all meltdowns & any feelings of being unfinished.

6- Have Kids Earn Screen Time 

This is actually how we started cutting back screentime in our house.  We had our kids EARN their screentime by helping us out around the house more.  If they completed chores, they were rewarded.  I wanted them to see that we, as adults, don’t just sit around.  We do our work first (chores, work, cooking, etc…) and we are rewarded by having some downtime when we are done.

It is an important lesson: work before play. When our kids started to swap kids for screentime, it was a bridge that eventually took us to the summer of no screens (without complaining, whining or asking for electronics).  I will never go back to free-range with our kids.

chores for screentime cards

Hi there!

I’m Becky, a former elementary school teacher turned certified child development therapist and blogger. I work at home with my husband and together we are raising (and partially homeschooling) our four children in the Carolinas. I love diet coke, ice cream, and spending time with my family.

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9 Comments

  1. I love the idea of a screen-free summer. But, it does feel a bit overwhelming when I think about all the complaining that will happen if we try to implement it. Thanks for the great ideas to reduce that whining. I think we forget sometimes that just talking to our kids and treating them with respect will reduce some of that resentment and whining.

    1. You are so right!! When you give respect, you’ll often get respect in return! Good luck with reducing the screen time this summer, enjoy the time with your kiddos <3

  2. this is so so great! We are a lot the same with our screen rules. I love the “car” exception. I also love the screen time is done together and not separating us..

  3. My kids have started earning screen time with good behavior and helping out around the house. It’s helped a lot!

    1. That’s great!! As you keep working at it, it will become a habit for them 🙂

  4. Love your article! I’ve use the Family Link app on my kid’s phones, and it has definitely helped me in seeing what apps they are using. I highly recommend it to any parent.

    1. We love it too!! So glad it’s working for you 🙂

  5. I love this article. I have a 15, 13, and 4. We started using family link when the older 2 we’re about 12 and 10 (O think). First everything went smoothly until my oldest turned 13 and Google sent an alert (or maybe it was a text) to my daughter and letting her know that since she was 13 she could choose to monitor her own account from now on and gave her an option to click whether she wanted to or not right then and there. She came and told me and I explained to her why I would continue to monitor it. She clicked no (or whatever the decline option was) but it told her she could always go and change it when she feels ready. When this happened with my son he didn’t mention it and ended getting onto a bunch of inappropriate stuff. So now I’m on the market for something else.

    Family Link is great for 12 and under but 13 and older I do not recommend