Teaching Screentime: All Media is Not Created Equal
The idea came when my kids started drifting away from shows like SuperWhy and Signing Time to My Little Pony and Super Mario Brothers. We allotted one hour of screen time per day, but I was getting uncomfortable with them watching mind-numbing shows every single day.
We began thinking about what we want the purpose of technology to be in our home, and realized that we wanted technology to be a resource for us in three areas: Education, Creativity, and Entertainment.
Education: By this we mean traditionally “education-ish” things like math skills, reading comprehension, geography, science, etc. Things that would fall in this category for us would be Signing Time, SuperWhy, foreign language DVDs, Stack the States app, etc.
Creativity/Problem-solving: Of course creativity and problem-solving are “educational”, but in a different kind of way. So, in this section we’re thinking Cut the Rope, Mindcraft, etc.
Entertainment: We understand that part of the fun of screen time is to veg out. So, if it’s not educational or doesn’t aid in our creative or problem-solving skills, then we put it in this category. So, for us, it’s CareBears, My Little Pony, MarioKart, etc.
Obviously this is more complicated than: “You get 60 minutes of total screen time per day.” How could we keep track of all of the variables?
We choose colored plastic links. Each link under their name represented 15 minutes.
Education: Blue (3 hours weekly)
Creativity/Problem-solving: Purple (3 hours weekly)
Orange: Entertainment (1.5 hours weekly)
Our guidelines were:
1. You must ask us to put a timer on before you start playing for a certain amount of minutes of your choosing.
2. After playing, you must immediately put your links in the bucket.
3. When links are gone for the week, they’re gone. No bargaining or substituting.
4. You may not have screen time before school.
5. At bedtime on Sunday, the links would be reset. No carrying leftover links to the next week.
Other than that, they got to decide when to play, what to play, and how long to play. Complete freedom.
Upfront we had to do a lot of talking about what TV shows, computer games, wii games, and apps fell under each category. We talked about the point of each game and decided together as a family which category was most appropriate. They did a great job rationing their time throughout the week (I’m not sure that any kid ever used up all of their links), and they became very aware of what the TV show/game/app was about.
All screen time is not created equal, and we really wanted to help our kids develop the ability to see that early on because this tension is never going away. We also wanted them to have a little freedom in when they played, knowing that the days of “this time is screen time” gets fuzzier as the kids get older.
So, what do you think? What are some other ways to decipher between the various uses of screen time? How do you help kids keep track of their usage? Any good tips to share? We’re all pioneering the age of kids and screens together, and the more heads we get together on this the better!
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