Edited November 30 to include image of our tech rules
Now that you know where I’m coming from, let’s talk PRACTICALS! I love talking practical, I love getting action points, hopefully you do as well!
The number one thing you need to do is SET GROUND RULES. These are specifically for screens, because that’s what is hot around here. Technology literally puts food on our table (my husband is a database administrator and programmer) but like everything else, it will take over your life if you let it.
Technology is just like anything we set rules on. We can’t drive our cars at 100 miles an hour down the Interstate. We can’t drink pop 24/7. We can’t park on the train tracks. I mean, we can but it won’t work out well for us in the end. If I do nothing but read great literature all day, my eyes will fatigue, the kids will be rioting and my house will be a disaster. Technology is just like that – set your limits so you can enjoy yourself (and not be controlled by it).
In my household, we have the following rules:
- No screen time for the toddler
- No binging on series. Sometimes we will binge a little (Mythbusters….) but never will we watch an entire series or even a season in one sitting.
- Older kids (age 8 and 10) cannot keep their tablets in their rooms overnight. They must charge them in the living room.
- Older kids need to keep their tablets in a common area when they are using them (with rare exceptions, such as if they’re building something together in Minecraft and my zoo is too loud).
- Older kids need to always keep the kid-proofing on (this prevents them from surfing the Internet, using Youtube, taking photos, viewing the app store, etc). If a kid tries to circumvent the kid-proofing, I will take away their tablet until they are 18 (and I am NOT EVEN JOKING about this and they know it).
- Only Mom-Approved shows on Netflix/Hulu/Amazon and Mom-Approved apps on the tablets. Spoiler alert: most of the apps they have on their tablets I put on there and they’re mostly educational apps like Khan Academy. I rarely let them put requested app on (more on my criteria below).
- Absolutely, positively, 100% NO TALKING TO ANYONE ONLINE (should they somehow circumvent the locks or whatnot). My oldest will use her tablet to talk to her grandmother and her aunt and that’s it. I log in regularly to her account and I read every.single.conversation she is having. And she knows that, too.
- The kids do not know the pins, passwords, or anything like that for any tech related things in our household.
You can see the majority of tech rules are set for the two older kids. My younger kids are easier to deal with, I just shut it off and that’s the end of it. And they’re too young to really be into tablets and whatnot, so that helps. As the younger kids grow up, they will have these rules apply to them.
As my kids get older, we will have conversations about more adult themes. The oldest two already know about creeps posing as kids online. They know that there are websites that are absolutely hideous, and there are ads in apps and videos on Youtube Kids that no one should ever see. We talk about the power of the eye – how our brains can hold longer what we see vs what we read so even a glimpse at some of these nasty sites/apps/ads can be with them forever. I am extremely grateful that we have never once had an issue with inappropriate things online. They know what to do though should something even remotely seems weird – immediately shut it off and get an adult. It doesn’t matter if the “weird” is related to raunchy ads, misbehaving software, crashing apps, even the tablet needing a software update – anything that is not normal is to be immediately brought to my attention.
Any time someone wants an app installed, I immediately start researching it. The kids have at least a couple weeks of research done by me before I can make a decision. Most apps are denied because of too many ads, or the potential for bloatware/spyware/adware/malware is too high. Some are denied due to rating (as in “rated T for Teen”, not “1/5 stars”). I read reviews on the app page, Common Sense Media, and just general Google searches. If an app passes muster then I will download it on my tablet and play it. If it doesn’t do anything weird, have stupid ads, if it actually DOES SOMETHING as opposed to just sucking in attention; there’s a possibility it will be approved. But before it’s approved, my kids have to give me a good “change my mind” argument about WHY they should have this certain app. Why not a book? Why does it need to be THIS app? Is there a documentary that will scratch this itch? If it costs money, you better give me the best argument I’ve ever seen for that app (the only app that has been approved that costs money is Minecraft).
If the app makes it through that gauntlet, on it goes. And if I see it’s become abandoned, I will remove it (because who needs extraneous apps cluttering up their devices). But what happens most of the time is that they end up not wanting an app after a couple of days. 🙂
I am ruthless when it comes to screen time. I am not raising technoslaves, I am raising people. I am teaching them (all of them) self-regulation so that when they’re adults, they won’t be controlled by technology. Older kids get more screen time, but not by much.
Our daily screen limits (which do not count school, as I do use some public domain books online, documentary snippets, etc):
- The two year old: never
- The four year old: 2 – 20 minute cartoons
- The six year old: 1 movie or three cartoons
- The eight year old: 1 movie and 1 cartoon
- The ten year old: 1 movie and two cartoons
All media is selected from pre-approved sources.
Additionally, they have a laundry list of things to do before screen time:
- playing outside
- creating something
- playing inside
The funny thing is that by having other things to do before screen time, they don’t really hit their maximum allowed screen time. They often find themselves in some level of imaginary game that ends up stretching all afternoon and screens aren’t all that alluring.
I also extensively talk about screen addiction and technoslaves. It’s a very real thing, and they are all aware of it. They know that just like ads; technology can hijack your brain and make you compulsively check sites/apps/etc.
The screen limits and access to the Internet will change as the kids grow up (and as technology changes, as well). My end-all goal for screen time is to not make it so forbidden that they are trying to get access at other places from home, or constantly trying to circumvent the kid-proofing; but how to use it as a tool. I don’t want them turning 18 and discovering THE WILD WILD INTERNET. If I can guide them now (and through teenagehood), I hope to give them a solid foundation in which to build on as adults.
I have our rules written out and posted for all to see.
As the kids get fluent with telling time, the pegs of “a movie” or a “cartoon” disappear and turn into actual minutes. I cap the oldest two at 2 hours.
Up next: technology aids for the school day