New Series: Taking Back Screentime

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Today we’re launching a new series, Taking Back Screentime, with a view to honing our parenting efforts and sharing tips on managing tech-time at home.

The series will include a combination of recent research by health professionals and home-made, tried-and-true strategies. Today’s post falls under the latter category. In our first guest post, mum of three young boys shares her family’s methods for ensuring tech-time is under control in their busy household.

Take it away, Fiona!


How We #TakeBackScreentime

One PC. One netbook. One laptop. Two smartphones. One ‘dumb’ phone. One iPad. One Kindle Fire HD. One Kindle. One Nintendo DS.  One iPod touch. One television with no cable, however one subscription to Netflix, which can be streamed on the television or iPad.

Twelve. That’s the total tally of ‘screens’ that our family of five has.

Not too different to what your family may have I imagine.

Twelve screens.  That’s a lot of potential screentime.

I was asked to share about how we as a family manage our screentime, but let me clear on this – WE are not experts in this field.  We certainly don’t have all of the answers on how to manage this ever-growing issue.  We will readily admit that we are high internet users.  When we lived in the US we just paid for our internet depending on what speed we were after – the amount of data was unlimited….when we moved to Australia we quickly learnt just how much data we chugged through.

You see my husband and I don’t have a set time limit for our children and their screentime.  Not at the moment anyway.

Nope.  We don’t.

And it works for us.  At the moment.

Now before you call the Parenting Police on us and dob us into our kids’ teachers, please carry on reading and see why we don’t and what we do instead.

To Limit or Not to Limit…

You see we have tried the whole set time limit thing.  And what we found in our particular situation was…..the set time thing really made the screentime into a much bigger ‘thing’ than it needed to be.  It almost gave the screentime more ‘power’ over our children. It turned screentime into an idol of sorts. So we’ve changed our approach.

We firmly believe that we are the gate-keepers for our children.  What we allow into their lives shapes them.  It is up to us as parents to have a firm handle on what our kids watch, to know how they conduct themselves online.  We have to set the boundaries.  We also believe that the little people in our home must respect their elders and obey…….if and when we ask them to turn something off…..they must……if we organize something to do as a family…..they must participate….there is no opt-out button.  Along with this is the belief that delayed obedience is disobedience…..

So we don’t have set time limits for screentime, but our boys do know that if and when we ask them to come away from their particular screen….they must.  We’re aware of what they’re doing. Another thing with not having a set limited amount of screentime means it is easy to be flexible and make certain allowances when we know we can…for example if we know we’re going to be out for one day of the weekend (with no screens present), then if the other day of the weekend is wet and dismal, we can allow a bit more screentime on that day – without feeling guilty. We don’t have to be changing the rules with our ‘set times’, because there aren’t set times – but a very good understanding of what is happening.

Swapping Screentime for Family Time

The other main thing we do to #TakeBackScreentime is to initiate and activate family time.

It’s been our experience that family time doesn’t just happen… needs to be created…it can be casual and unstructured, or planned well ahead and formal….however it looks or appears. Quite often it is a proactive move on our part – to be experiencing something new and fun together.

We’ve got big age gaps between our children, so sometimes it isn’t always an easy thing to find things to do that all three children will enjoy and be able to participate in, but these are just a few tried and true ideas…which for the most part are cheap or free to do…

  • Fishing – Our latest family hobby is fishing.  This had a one-off cost with the gear, but now we’re set….and we have our hearts set on getting a big ‘un.  It is easy enough to pop out for a couple of hours fishing or make a day of it.
  • Board games – Our favourites at the moment are ‘Settlers of Catan’, and ‘Ticket to Ride’.  Board games are a great whole family Christmas present idea.  Of course some games are not complete without tears, gritted teeth, frustrations and learning things the hard way – all very normal I’m told.  We’ve not yet had board throwing…..
  • Letterboxing/ geocaching – How does “modern day treasure hunting” sound? Great for multi-generational fun. Really good for learning critical thinking skills and problem-solving. Can involve a bit of petrol though.  (Learn more about this fascinating adventure here.)
  • Just getting out for a walk/ bike ride/ scooter/ whatever… Being together in the great outdoors is important for us…..doesn’t matter how it happens, the key thing is the togetherness.

Keeping the Finger on the Family’s Pulse

There could well be a time where my husband and I do put in place a set limited screentime ruling in our home – and that’s ok.  I think we all should be regularly evaluating where we’re at as individuals with our ‘dependency’ on technology.

At the moment my husband’s job is primarily to do with online content, and he’s soon to move onto a job concerning all things in the realm of visual media. I place a very high value on the importance of keeping in touch with people using social media.  We, as a family are surrounded by screens, by the very nature of how we live, but as long as we don’t let them consume us, I’ll think we’ll be ok.  We’re in charge of the screens.  They aren’t in charge of us.

That’s how we #TakeBackScreentime.  I hope that gives you some different and possibly new ideas to add to your arsenal of parenting tools at your fingertips.


More about Today’s Guest Blogger:

Fiona is a grower of little boys.  Having experienced life in a few different cultures, she’s a firm believer that life is best walked with others. Her parenting blog, The Messy Trenches,  focuses on the importance of working together as we face victories and challenges along the paths of parenthood. 

Thanks, Fi!

Over to You…

What does your family do to #TakeBackScreenTime? Please share in the comments. If you’d like to guest blog about your family’s strategies (or be interviewed if writing isn’t your thing) for this space, please leave a comment! Join the fun on Twitter too. #TakeBackScreentime

Image Credit: sisters-screentime by Jeremy Hiebert, CC