How I Called a Truce in the Screen Time Wars

Balancing iPad time with behavior expectations does the trick. By Sierra Filucci
How I Called a Truce in the Screen Time Wars

A friend told me recently that she doesn't let her kindergartner watch TV or play video games or apps, and she only rarely allows him to see a Thomas and Friends video on Netflix.

It's hard for me to imagine banning screens to that degree, especially because I find them so helpful when I need to do chores or have an adult conversation. But her reasoning rings true: She said she has enough battles with him over which shoes to wear or when to leave the playground, and she doesn't need one more thing to cause conflict. I get that.

After we got an iPad, my 6-year-old became a broken record: "Can I play iPad? Can I play iPad?" It started at 6 a.m. as he crawled into our bed and didn't stop until my husband or I snapped "No! No iPad!" For the couple months it took us to get an iPlan in place, we were in constant war with him over when and for how long he could use the device.

Here's what we do now: He gets to play for 15 minutes at night, with a few caveats. He can't play if he's hit anyone that day, thrown something in anger, or called anyone a name. And he has to have his PJs on and teeth brushed. And I have to say, the transformation has been near miraculous. He's more aware of his negative behavior and understands what he will lose if he can't control himself. And we never have to nag him to get ready for bed.

Of course, as soon as we had this system running perfectly, I read a study pointing to screen time before bed being linked to difficulty getting to sleep. And a lack of sleep causes poor school performance, and guess what else? Difficulty controlling behavior like hitting, throwing, and name calling. Ack!

Part two of my iPlan will be reconciling short-term solutions with potential long-term effects. For now, this is working for us, and we're sticking with it. It's not as clean and simple as giving up screens altogether, but it’s more realistic for my family. My son gets his fix, we get a more a more streamlined bedtime routine, and my husband and I aren't creating rules on the fly.

Do you have solutions, tips, or tricks for managing screen time in your home? What works for you? Follow me @SierraSense

About Sierra Filucci

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Sierra is a journalist with a special interest in media and families. She has a master's degree in journalism from the University of California at Berkeley, and she's been writing and editing professionally for more... Read more

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Comments (4)

Parent of an infant, 6, and 8 year old written by Momma comma

Great idea. Me and my husband allow our kids 1-2 hours of screen time ( or at least try to) and check the reviews here 1st
Adult written by apetsnick

My girls are 10 and 12. They are only allowed screen time from Thursday to Sunday (and even that is limited). Monday to Wednesday are free from the "can I use the ipad" begging. Tonight we all went outside and shovelled snow, which turned into creating a snow tunnel. That would not have happened if they had access to the ipad/tv. I waited until they went to beds to write this, because I follow the rules too (when they r watching LOL)!
Parent of a 13 and 16 year old written by mamajudi

I am the mom of two teens. The negotiating for screens/screentime only gets more intense. I have recently discovered some pre-written media agreements on as well as yahoo, yoursphere and Some are even age-specific. I plan to use these as a guideline to craft our own family agreement. I wish I had known about these years ago. The big picture question: media is a great bargaining chip to have in your back pocket when you need to get your child to do something - whether it is to brush his/her teeth or raise a grade - but I worry that by using it as a reward we make media this ULTIMATE thing. Try to sprinkle in some other rewards, too....