As long as we’ve had kids, we’ve had limitations on how long they can be on the computer. We didn’t have any serious convictions about screen time, but we did have clear cut evidence it wasn’t good for our children.
When our oldest was a preschooler, we noticed that after a while on the computer, his ears would get red. It is a phenomena caused by adrenaline, so we limited his time on the computer. It became blatantly obvious this was the right choice when a few years later, he visited a friend and they played video games nearly all afternoon. He came home sick. He laid on the couch and cried. His ears were red, his face was red, and he was sick to his stomach. After a little rest, he was okay, but we never forgot that afternoon, and the physical manifestations of too much screen time.
Over the years, the limitations have changed as our children have aged. We’ve also taken into account each individual child’s digital needs. But, I must say, given the addictive nature of all things electronic, it has been a constant battle to teach our children balance and boundaries in the digital age.
I’ve been told our computer rules are rather strict – even in homeschooling circles. That said, you have to make decisions based on your family’s unique identity. Some families will allow more because more things in their home revolve around the screen. Some families will have even less than we do because they do not have much need for screen time at all. I’m not here to argue the finer points of giving children computer skills, or at what age they need a cell phone. This post is simply to share OUR guidelines and methods, and offer a few thoughts for consideration.
So, let me start with giving a run down of how much time our children are on the computer and how they are using that time.
Our 17 year old son –
Recently, we gave him full control of his computer time. We feel his computer needs have arrived at a level that he must now learn to manage his time for himself. He has several school subjects that require computer time, and several worthy interests that revolve around the computer as well. He keeps up with the news online, blogs, and does a tremendous amount of research for himself and our family via the internet.
We do have one stipulation for him (and the other children as well) – no games during the week. Saturday is Computer Games Day. The computer is a tool, and should be used as such throughout the week.
Our 14 year old daughter –
She does school and runs a blog, she is also our family photographer and requires time on the computer to edit and download photos. We recently gave her her older brother’s time slot – 1 hour/3x a week. She used to have 1 hour/2x a week.
She has never been one to play games on the computer, so her 1 hour of “game time” on Saturday is made up of time on Pinterest and Instagram.
10 year old daughter –
She has no desire to do anything online, subsequently, she doesn’t have any computer time during the week, and so far, none of her school requires a computer. She’s my Little House on the Prairie child, so I’m not sure she will ever have much of an affinity for the online world. On Saturday, she has 40 minutes of game time, and she chooses to use her time to watch a movie on her choosing.
9 year old son –
He just started asking for computer time during the week. He plans to use it to write a story about a knight and put together a family newsletter. He will get 30 minutes once a week. He has no school work that requires a computer. On Saturday, he gets 40 minutes of game time and uses it to play games with his brothers.
6, 4, & 2 year old sons –
They only play on the computer (or other electronic device) on Saturday for 20 minutes a piece. They tend to sit together and watch each other play, so they are spending everyone’s time in front of a screen as well. We are happy they spend the time together, but we also want to guard against the time they are staring at a screen from being excessive. I’ve also noticed it is very easy for them to become addicted to the screen, begging for more and more of it – every. single. day. (We are working on a way to combat this – I’ll share when we get the results we are looking for 😉 )
We have a few Device Rules as well –
1. No earbuds or headphones. It’s been our experience that anything that shuts off your ears, shuts out others as well. Computer time is a family experience. We also feel it could be potentially dangerous to allow children to shut themselves off from the rest of the family with a device that has access to the internet or has the tendency to encourage escapism. The only time we allow earbuds with devices is when our older two children needing to listen to something audio while working side by side at the computer. We would also potentially allow them if we had a child who was easily distracted.
2. Once you start your time on Game Day, you have to finish it. No splitting up your time. This came about because we had children taking 5 minutes here and 10 minutes there and stringing out their game time all day long. It was nearly impossible for anyone to keep track of. The exception to this is when mom and dad call the child off the computer for another purpose. The timer is stopped and the child is allowed to return where they left off.
3. If you are unkind or disrespectful to anyone in the house while you are using a device, it will be immediately confiscated. One phenomena we have found in our household is that being on a device lends itself to bad attitudes and snapping at others. I think it is because our awareness of the world around us is dulled. We block out a lot until we are suddenly snapped back into reality and realize we are bothered by something someone is doing.
4. Computers stay in a common area. Closed doors and the internet are simply too tempting.
An of course, there are exceptions…
1. French lessons – Our daughter takes French lessons via Skype. During her lessons, she is allowed to be in her bedroom or other private area so as not to be disturbed or disturb others. (You can read more about the website we use to take foreign language lessons via Skype HERE.)
2. Special Night – On each child’s Special Night (which falls on a Tuesday), they are allowed to play games. (You can read more about Special Night HERE.)
3. You can respectfully ask for more time. Quite often, my 14 year old will ask for more time to finish a blog post, edit a photo to send off, or finish one more chapter in the novel she’s writing. 9 times out of 10, if one of the children respectfully asks for a little more time on the computer, we will grant it.
How to keep track of the time children spend on the computer.
Use a Timer
For years, we just used a good old fashioned kitchen timer to keep track of computer time. Have the child who is going to be on the computer check in with you, set the time and keep it in a place where everyone can hear it when it goes off.
We often use our phones to set a timer as well. When you set it, make sure you have it on a sound you can hear well and the volume on your phone is turned up!
Most internet browsers have a timer extension you can download that will appear right in the browser. These are good for older (responsible) children who can set their own time and have the self-control to stop when the timer goes off.
There are also apps that will lock you out of websites once you’ve used up your time on that site; however, I haven’t found those to be real practical.
How to help children learn to manage their own computer time.
From the time your children are very young, they need to be taught balance and moderation. There are several ways you can help them learn to manage and be accountable for the time they spend using an electronic device.
Computer Time Notebook
Keep a small Computer Time Notebook near the computer area and have each child sign in when they get on the computer. From there, they are to immediately set their timer or ask mom or dad or an older sibling to set it for them.
You could even require them to write down what they did during their time on the computer as a further measure of accountability. This would be a good way for them to see where they are spending their time and if they might need to change how much time they are spending on certain sites in order to give them more time on another.
Name Tags/Cards & Hooks
We use old countertop samples that have holes drilled through the top and the children’s names written on them in permanent marker as Computer Cards. (photos will be added later) However, you could use just about anything you can hang on a hook like keychains or one of these tags – just as long as you can personalize them.
It is especially helpful if the tags are different colors so even the youngest of children can know which tag is theirs. (Or you can use a symbol for your younger children.) Write each child’s name (or symbol) on a different color and be sure they know which is theirs.
Put your hooks side by side on a wall or cupboard, and hang the cards/tags on one side. When the child wants to start their computer time, they either come to you to move their name tag over or they move it over themselves and start their time. This has been helpful with my little ones who need something tangible to show them they no longer have any computer time left. They are also learning to make better choices with when they take their time because they don’t want to be done by 9 am with the rest of the day ahead of them and not another chance at computer time. It’s been a win-win situation because they are choosing to do other things to occupy their time and then taking their computer time later in the day.
No matter how you choose to set boundaries on your child’s computer/device time, I still feel it is very important to do so. (I do not agree with this article that says screen time should be unlimited.) There is a time to start letting go and letting your child learn to set boundaries themselves, but that time should come slowly and with great fear and trembling. Your children will more than likely struggle at some point throughout their lives to keep the devices and screen time under control. Setting good examples and limitations now will help them navigate those times when they will have to ratchet back on their own.
What are some of your favorite tips for keeping track of your kids’ computer time? Feel free to share in the comments section!
Other posts you might like:
Weaning from the Screen
How to Get a Mommy Break Without the Help of the Television