Topic Tuesday {Managing Screen Time}

This is, by far, the question I get asked the most often.  How do you monitor video game time for you boys?

We’ve always held fast to the rule of no ‘screens’ during the week for our boys.  This was super easy for me because, well, I hate video games.  They’re mindless, couch potato making, bunches of nonsense that make kids whiny and miserable.  Don’t believe me?  Go tell your kids it’s time to turn them off.  (ha!)

I know I’m an over the top hater and so I had to set the rules just as much for me as for them.  Every time they’re squeaky little voices would ask, “Can we play video games?”  I would cringe and anger would start to well up in my whole entire being.   Then I would begin the rant of, “It’s a beautiful day.  Why aren’t you outside?  blah blah blah.”

So we set some rules.  No screen time during the week when they were busy with school and homework and playing at friends houses.  (I won’t even start on how ‘playing’ with friends often just means two boys staring at a screen for two hours.  That’s not playing, people!!)

Our rules worked fabulously for us for many reasons.

1)  I only got asked if they could play video games 2 days out of the week.  That’s 5 days of peace!  Total score.

2)  If you allow your kids to play video games on saturday they wake up early and leave you alone!  My husband and I started sleeping in until 8!  Then 9!  Then sometimes even 10!  Glorious.

This has worked for us for the past 6 or 7 years.  Fabulously, I might add.

Then, just before Christmas, sometime right after they had brought home their report cards (little schemers that they are) the boys asked if they might be allowed to sometimes play video games after school.  I thought about our system and how long it had been working for and I agreed that maybe, just maybe it was time for a tweak.  My boys are now 13, 11 and so close to 10 he can taste the birthday cake!  What worked at 7 and 8 could probably use some revamping.

So I took some time and thought it out and figured out a new system.  The boys were given a total of 5 hours of ‘screen’ time per week.  I got out 10 popsicle sticks for each boy, put their initial on it and labeled it ’30 minutes’.  I stuck those in a jar labeled Screen Time.  Right next to the jar is Screen Times best friend ‘All Used Up’.  So the boys have 5 hours to use per week and when they play a half hour increment they simply transfer popsicle stick from one jar to the next.

There were a few kinks to work out.  Like no screens before school and none until all homework was complete.  No using 15 minutes and saving 15 minutes and just remembering it.  You use half an hour or lose the remainder.  Timers must ALWAYS be set when you’re playing.  My boys choose to set it for 15 minute intervals so they know when they’re half done.  As an aside the timer deal has also taught them how quickly time goes when you’re playing video games.  They can NOT believe how fast an hour goes by.  It’s an important thing for them to recognize that they could sit there for 2, 3, 4 hours and think it was just a little while.

It’s worked really well so far.  I think in time they’ll probably ask for more time as emailing and facebook become part of their worlds.  But for now it’s not really so they play their silly games or apps or something on the computer and when the timer dings – they’re done!  I don’t have to be the bad guy telling them to turn it off!

Which brings me to my question:  How do you deal with ‘screen’ time in your house?  Do you set limits?  Weekdays only?  Weekends only?  Is it a great big free for all?  Or do you have those fairy like children that I hear about in legends who don’t really like video games?


6 thoughts on “Topic Tuesday {Managing Screen Time}

  1. We, like you, have had a “not on school nights” rule. There’s too much to do; homework, music, chores and activities. The exceptions are snow days. Sometimes if a friend is over and they ask I’ll say “after you’ve done something productive for awhile”. What usually happens is they take off to play hockey or something and get lost in it and when they ask again then the friend’s dad will be here in 20 minutes and there’s no point. I used to do specific days, but then it turned into a beautiful sunny day on TV day and a rainy or snow day on a not. That didn’t work.

    I really like your Popsicle stick idea. I think that would work really well and I might try it as our weekends are often so busy there isn’t time for TV anyway and of course, that’s “not fair”. We also don’t have cable, so when they choose to sit and do something it’s intentional – a specific game or a specific show. Not just sitting and flipping channels for the heck of it.

    I still make sure their homework, music and chores are done before they play and there’s always a time limit. Sometimes on a saturday it’s easier to let them play first and get it over with. Then I don’t have to hear about it until later.

    I love how shocked they are by time flying when they play. They wanted one more game last night before bed so I said they could play ONE game of FIFA soccer. No intentional overtimes, no shoot outs. Just play one game. I was thinking that would be 20 minutes and when I checked in on them in 45 minutes they said “we just started!!!”

    I am shocked and appalled at how many hours their friends play unsupervised. Parents need to learn it’s okay to say no. It’s not a kid’s RIGHT to play, it’s a PRIVILEGE.


  2. I live in a fairy tale land where nobody in my house has or wants any screen time at all 🙂 I wonder how much having brothers rather than having sisters affects the need/want for screen time (video games/tv/etc). I have observed that it isn’t much fun to play a video game by yourself so it only happens when friends are over. It would be an interesting study for sure.


  3. We have constantly shifting “rules” in our house because there is a big age range in our kids and what works for a year changes the next. Last year we did no electronics during the week (they watched 1 – 30 minute show sometime after school but they all had to agree…my poor sons ended up watching a lot of “Mickey Mouse Club House”)! This year we’ve changed it up a bit. They get from 4-5pm to play/watch. HOWEVER…homework, chores, piano Practise, etc. must be finished first. If it takes until 4:30 you only get 30 minutes. You don’t get to make it up, it’s just gone. I LOVE this time as it allows me time to make dinner, finish up housework, go for a walk (if I need some exercise) without distraction. The weekends are less structured but they are generally allowed in the morning for a bit so we can sleep in and the rest of the day is usually filled with activity. They don’t play before school and it is still a privilege that can be taken away if the situation seems necessary.


  4. love this idea! I’ve wondered the same, though Brad isn’t into video games enough to own a system (so I wonder if we’ll get one later), it’s already important with TV since now Lily and Oli do watch a bit each week.
    thanks for sharing!


  5. Love your last line there, Carm! It’s not a kids RIGHT to play, it’s a privilege! Brilliant.
    I’m sure genders in the house make a difference, Karen. Because I have boys its fuelled to highly competitive levels. If they had noone to play with/against, I’m sure it would become boring.
    Elise, I love that you’ve timed your kids screen time to benefit your life. Why not let them enjoy so you can cook dinner in peace! Love it.
    Em, screens for us includes everything. Video games, cartoons, computer time etc. As soon as your kids hit school and hear all the other kids talking about all these cool games, shows, apps – it becomes an issue!


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