Negotiating Screen-Time with Kids

How to negotiate screen time with tech-obsessed kids

It seems like I’ve been writing about screen time all over the web this month, and probably for good reason: many parents are figuring out how to maintain some balance with our tech-obsessed kids. This has been an issue in my house ever since the kids have been old enough to operate the computer. My kids are huge technology fans, which is no big surprise given the fact that they have two parents whose phones are tethered to their hands 24/7. I think technology can provide some great educational opportunities for kids . . . after all, I credit the website with teaching my daughter to read. At the same time, screen time that goes unchecked is concerning to me. I think that kids need a good balance, and boundaries have to be put into place to make sure that kids don't end up staring at a screen all day long when they could be playing or interacting with family. 

I thought I would share one of the tools we use for screen time. We call them “screen time sticks”, but it’s really just a token system to try to tangibly help the kids understand their limits in regards to the t.v. and computer.  In our house, screen time is a privilege, not a right. Each of my kids have the chance to earn screen time for the following day by being respectful and following the rules. If they aren't towing the line with their behavior, the screen time privilege is lost.

How to negotiate screen time with tech-obsessed kids

Each day, the kids have the opportunity to earn 2 screen-time sticks for the following day.  One is good for 30 minutes of tv time, and one is good for 30 minutes of computer/phone time. At the end of each day, we have a quick family meeting where we discuss whether or not these were earned based on the obedience and respect each child exhibited.  If they earned it, the stick goes into the jar for the following day. (There is a video of me explaining the system in action over at Babble).

The next day, the kids can redeem the stick with screen time. I set the timer to 30 minutes, and what's that rings, their time is up. It is simple but it works. When they decide that they wants to redeem their screen time, they turn their stick in to me.

Kids can choose to use their screen time together. For example, my kids might decide to watch a Jake and the Neverland Pirates episode together. But if they watch together, then all of the tokens must be relinquished. If they don't want to spend their token and another child is watching a show, they have to do an activity in another room.

Any symbol can work for this kind of token system: a marble, a star sticker, a laminated paper certificate . . . but the key is something that represents a child's screen time, and that they must relinquish once they have decided to use it. This is a concrete way for parents to keep things in check, and also for kids to understand limits.

How to negotiate screen time with tech-obsessed kids

Over at Huffington Post, I’ve got a few more ideas on screen time management, including using timers and the “clean before screen” rule. You can read those here.

(And in this video, you can see me admit that I’m not always perfect at this because, HELLO. I get some benefit from the glowing screen of distraction as well).


How to do negotiate screen time with your kids? Are you comfortable with the amount of scree time your kids watch, or would you like to implement more controls?

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