Choosing Your Screen Time Battles: When to Hold Firm and Let Go
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Choosing Your Screen Time Battles: When to Hold Firm and Let Go

Strange times call for new ways to adapt but staying consistent is key to making it work.

Screen time limits tend to slide during a normal summer—add extra time at home due to intermittent shutdowns to the mix and screen time is at an all-time high. Kids are using devices to connect with friends, fill in the boredom gaps, and entertain themselves while IRL entertainment is on lockdown. And as parents, we’re programmed to look at the downsides of screen time and worry about the impact on kids of having nothing better to do. In fact, last May a survey from the American Psychological Association found that 46 percent of parents with kids under the age of 18 said their stress level was high (compared with 28 percent of adults without kids). In a follow-up survey in June, 69 percent of parents said they had no idea how they were going to keep their kids occupied this summer.

"These are not normal times so we can’t expect to keep every aspect of life up to the pre-COVID standards,” says Dr. Catherine Pearlman, The Family Coach. Bottom line: we should cut ourselves some slack and embrace the exceptions and changes that come with this unprecedented shift. If your family needs extra screen time for the sake of normalcy and sanity, absolutely ease up on the rules. But all-day screen time is never good for anyone. Here are ways to pick and choose your screen time battles and let the parent guilt (and burnout) slip away.

Schedule the day in blocks.

Setting a new screen time schedule, and daily schedule in general, can help you better manage the lulls at home. “Kids really do best when they have a somewhat predictable schedule,” says Dr. Pearlman. She suggests parents plan the day in blocks of time. “A block for reading, a block for play and games, a block for bathing and brushing teeth, a block for outdoor exercise, etc. These blocks can help fill the day and avoid excessive screen time,” she says.

It really depends on the home. Parents should pick two to three non-negotiables and stay firm on those rules. If children see that the rules do not bend, they will stop trying to break them.


Cover the non-negotiables.

This is different for every family, but decide when and why your kids can be online and when you want to keep devices out of the room. “It really depends on the home. Parents should pick two to three non-negotiables and stay firm on those rules. If children see that the rules do not bend, they will stop trying to break them,” says Dr. Pearlman.

For example, conversations during mealtime are known to support a kid’s social-emotional health and ease stress for the whole family. “I often recommend no screen time at meals so families can reconnect,” says Dr. Pearlman. Experts also suggest turning off devices 1 to 2 hours before bedtime so everyone can get better sleep (which will make the next day go smoother in terms of mood and productivity). Circle’s Bedtime feature can snooze devices at a set time every night.

Know how your kid spends their time online.

Screen time covers a lot of bases—entertainment, education, social, news—and not all of it is created equal. Two hours scrolling through TikTok is not the same as two hours reading a digital book or watching a documentary.

After you determine when kids can have screen time, determine why. Circle’s Filter feature can help you choose appropriate content by age and block certain apps and sites, while Usage can help you figure out where kids are spending the most of their time online so you can adjust if needed.

Let kids be bored.

This summer you’re no longer shuttling kids to camp, play dates, and other activities so this slower pace of life can feel strange and perhaps uncomfortable. It’s OK. Let kids be bored and find their way out of that boredom. If they missed out on band camp, they can practice or learn a new instrument at home. If they miss soccer practice, they can still get outside and play ball. Let kids use their imaginations for how to be without screens and amazing things can come of it. If they’re really struggling, take the time to come up with some goals together so they can focus on what’s important to them.

Finally, take care of yourself. We’ve all hopped off the roller coaster of life and adjusting to a slower pace takes time. “Self care is vital for all parents but especially when dealing with a global pandemic and quarantine. These are difficult and stressful times and if parents don’t take time to care for their needs, the patience, coping, and ability to even do work will suffer.” says Dr. Pearlman. Carve out time to create a workable schedule, whatever that looks like for your family, find balance and a rhythm, and turn screen time battles into screen time wins.

Want to unload one more to-do? Circle can help you manage screen time with features like Time Limits, Filters, Bedtimes, and more. Learn how.

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