How We Tamed the Screen Time Monster

20160630_155520We are not “anti- screen” in this house, specially when it comes to educational stuff, however I don’t want my children to spend all day glued to screens.

I have learned that having the TV off is just asking to have them nagging me about watching TV all day so I turn it on to a music channel and that gets them off to playing with their toys or reading books instead of asking for a show.

My husband insisted on buying my oldest an iPad for Christmas (making his tablet fancier than mine, lol).  While I wasn’t opposed, I feared that he could become addicted to it.  Some families don’t limit screen time and it works for them but I soon realized that it wouldn’t work for us.

Things were great at first until fairly quickly my fears were realized, he started to ask to play with it more and more and get cranky if he didn’t get his electronic fix, sometimes he even seemed depressed! I didn’t like the changes that I was seeing in his behavior so something had to change.

I didn’t want to ban the iPad all together as it’s a very useful tool for homeschooling so I researched different methods to try to set healthy limits.

Some people have rules that a child has to do a list of things before they can use their screen, that doesn’t work for us well as I am not a morning person and it takes a while for my brain to boot up so Shammy likes to do some of his time while I am not yet coherent.

Our Solution
Our Screen Time Sticks
Our Screen Time Sticks

The first thing that I did was delete the Netflix app, my son was starting to binge watch cartoon episodes instead of using other apps, now Netflix is only watched on the TV and only once or twice a week, that has helped a lot. Then I needed to figure out how to limit his time without a struggle.

Enter our “stick” system, this was inspired by a token system that I saw online. I didn’t feel like printing, cutting and laminating tokens and creating a board to go with it so instead I bought popsicle sticks from the Dollar Store and took one of my kid’s cups.

The system is simple:

  • Every day my son automatically gets 2 sticks worth 30 minutes of “fun” screen time placed in the cup. He can use them one at a time and on rare occasions he can use them together to watch a long video. It’s an use it or lose it method, it doesn’t roll over and if he goes over time it can affect his second stick.
  • Bonus sticks of 15 minutes each can be earned by taking the initiative to do a chore or clean without being asked to or complaining about it.
  • Educational screen time is not limited and can be had at any time, provided he doesn’t have any pending chores. Educational time includes ABC Mouse, Scratch Jr Coding, Duolingo, Spelling City, Stack the States and similar educational games. He can also have unlimited Facetime with his father while he is at work.


How did it work?

He accepted the system without trouble and he knows exactly how much he can have and that when his time is up there is no point in asking for more unless he “earns” it. The tantrums over screen time stopped immediately, he no longer acts like an addict going through withdrawals and has no problem finding non electronic entertainment options.

We have been successfully using the sticks for over a month. He rarely bothers trying to earn bonus time and seems satisfied with having a 30 minute block in the morning and another one in the afternoon. He spend almost all of his time watching Minecraft Videos on the You Tube for Kids app which as annoying as it is for me to hear about them, some of them turn out to be educational and it does improve his Minecraft play.

At first my son was very good at keeping track of his own time but over time he either got sneaky or lazy and started to go over. Now I use the timer feature on my Fitbit watch to keep track, now that he knows that I am tracking he doesn’t go over anymore and I don’t have to remind him that time is up, he puts it away on his own.

Qustodio Parental Controls E-mail Report
Qustodio Parental Controls E-mail Report

I use Qustodio parental control software to restrict access and monitor activity. I get a daily e-mail telling me exactly what apps he used and how much time he spent on them or I can log on to their site at any time to review the activity.  If he uses a search engine I am notified of the search terms. It has given me a lot of peace of mind.

Their free account is enough for my needs but there is a Premium plan available if you want to track multiple devices or use extra features.