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Creating Good Screen-Time Habits For Kids

My Husband and I Disagree, but We Still Try to Create Healthy Screen-Time Habits Without Being Hypocrites

As I watch my 4-year-old daughter open up Snapchat and play with filters, part of me is like #proudmom and part of me is like "Seriously, am I screwed or what?"

I have three daughters and a very tech-savvy husband. He and I have very different views on technology for our girls. What we do agree on is that we both want them experimenting and playing with their iPads. We are pro games, knowing many of them are educational. In fact, playing FIFA Soccer is what brought us together in college.

That said, we pride ourselves on the fact that our parents instilled in us good values to work hard and find time to do the things we love. We turned out pretty well so far. We want our girls not to feel limited in their creativity or their ability to chill after hours of homework, piano lessons, soccer practice, and more.

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Also, the TV is pretty much always on in our house. Our computers are open and our phones are attached to our hips, so it's a little hypocritical of us to start demanding our kids can't use their devices. However, as our oldest turns 11 and her friends are getting their own phones, Brian and I struggle with whether there's a right and wrong way to limit screen time. What is the right parenting path?

It started with our firstborn and the iPad. Dinners out became more enjoyable, plane rides were luxurious, and soon enough, Katie was really using the iPad as an actual tool for learning. By 5, she was in kindergarten, and the school started assigning homework on their iPads. It was all innocent at first: homework, books, and even games like Minecraft. Fabulous, right?!

Fast-forward four years to the endless hours spent on YouTube and in group text chats. Then the Musical.ly app became to her what Instagram is to me. I see the app as something creative, something she can edit and learn new skills on. Her profile is private, and it seems mostly innocent. Nothing major has happened that is a red flag, but she is spending more and more time on her devices. I start to think about how awesome my childhood was because I had to make up games, write, or play sports all the time. But this is her life.

The truth is, I am not sure what the right call is on whether we should put screen-time limits on our kids. It always reminds me of the kids whose parents never let them have candy or Coke and then they go off to camp or college and ingest 10 times as much as those who have been exposed the entire time.

My husband and I are figuring it out as we go. We might disagree on some things, but overall we are a team and will adjust our plan accordingly. Our oldest signed a contract for her iPod, agreeing to some simple rules, like no downloading apps without permission first, no taking the iPod out of the house without permission, and a three-strike rule before getting the device taken away. You can see our contract here. We are still holding off on giving her a phone as long as we can. My husband, who upgraded her from the iPad to iPod, would be happy to give her one today, but I think it's still too early — even if it's more convenient for me to text her to tell her about plans, carpools, and playdates.

But it is getting harder and harder to hold off. As long as schoolwork is done, grades are great, and I can sleep in on the weekends a little longer, then I am all for this little device. I am hoping to start healthier habits earlier — for example, have the girls charge their iPods downstairs instead of next to their beds like their parents.

Below are some suggestions on healthy habits to start with. Give them a try and adapt them to your family's needs. We're all in this together. Good luck!

5 Ways to Start Healthy Screen-Time Habits For Your Kids

  1. Get them excited about reading and educational games early on.
  2. Make sure homework and playtime take precedence (we always go for walks with our dogs, have color time, or make kiwi crates if it looks like the kids are resorting to spending all their time on their phones.)
  3. Create a contract like this one.
  4. Leave devices in another room for the night and set a solid time to turn them off (ideally at least 30 minutes before bed).
  5. Make them feel like it's a reward that makes what can be dreadful (i.e. plane rides, long car rides, etc.) feel special.
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